One of the most infamous elements of science fiction is genetic engineering. Numerous times in the Star Trek universe, genetic engineering has been depicted as resulting in trouble and therefore branded as illegal. In the comic book universes, genetic engineering was usually at the hands of dubious, secretive scientific teams.

So conventional science fiction portrays the pain of genetic engineering as legal and societal. But what about physical pain? If a healthy adult has been injected with genetic engineering for whatever reason, will he suffer physical pain of any sort?

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ That’s... not what genetic engineering is. GE is the modification of genes within an organism and not something you could “inject” any more than you could “inject” math into someone. What an injection might be is a viral vector that encodes for gene modification, which would then somehow attack the DNA of all the cells. If designed correctly, this viral vector wouldn’t hurt at all because it wouldn’t trigger pain neurons- the only effect would be a “mutation” the next time the cells divide. Movie science always dramatizes this. $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Nov 26, 2017 at 3:34
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Genetic engineering is a process not a substance. Being injected with genetic engineering is as meaningless statement as being injected with civil engineering. I'd suggest that you edit your question so that we can understand what you are asking. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 26, 2017 at 3:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/1092 $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Nov 26, 2017 at 4:16
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Mechanical engineering is the least painful, with electrical engineering only a little more painful than that. Civil engineering is clearly more painful, genetic engineering even more, and the most painful of all is social engineering. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 26, 2017 at 4:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Dubukay I think we're being too hasty with VTC here. See answer below; you can make a decent argument that the expression of retroviral DNA could cause painful conditions. I mean, the degenerate case here is that the new DNA expresses botulism toxin... $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 26, 2017 at 8:15

2 Answers 2


Your cells (and those of any living organism on planet Earth) are constantly busy decoding genes to express proteins.

This happens 24/7, and nobody ever noticed it.

Now, with this in mind, and considering that genetic engineering is nothing else than the modification of one being genome to make it express other genes (either fully synthetic or borrowed by another organism), it is pretty straightforward that the answer to your question is NO, genetic engineering is not painful.

Just as an example, look what happens when your body is used by virus to replicate themselves by injecting your cells with their DNA or RNA: you don't feel pain by the replication, you get annoyance by your own body trying to get rid of the virus.



Traditionally, genetic engineering is done by manipulating gametes in a lab environment. At that single-cell stage, there is no pain. You could argue that poorly-done genetic engineering can cause the offspring to have painful congenital conditions. But by and large it's a pretty abstract process and won't hurt as such.

Now we can play a little fast and loose with those silly ol' "ethics" and have the G.E. done by retrovirus injection into children or adults. This will produce a "chimera" effect, where some cells have the new DNA and some don't. (Assuming that ovary/testes cells are properly targeted, the mutation can breed true.) Depending on what the new genes do, the conversion of existing bodily structures can be painful. Imagine the treatments increase metabolism or spur rapid bone growth; this will cause some discomfort to the zygote.

Update... Just to make this clear. It is not the addition of the new DNA that hurts. But the effects of the DNA being expressed can hurt like a [redacted]. Imagine if the DNA produces poneratoxin (bullet ant toxin)!

  • $\begingroup$ This does does answer the question. The question asks about injecting a person with genetic engineering, not with retroviruses. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 26, 2017 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP OP asks about a person "injected with genetic engineering". I am here suggesting that one such way to apply same to an adult is with DNA-modifying viruses. $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 26, 2017 at 16:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ All right, I wans't really objecting -- I had already plus oned the answer. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 26, 2017 at 17:26

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .