Designer Babies

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"Some assembly required."


"They used to say that a child conceived in love has a greater chance of happiness. They don't say that anymore."
Vincent, Gattaca

One of the biggest downfalls of Lego Genetics is the fact that it's hard to modify an adult. They're already done growing and the idea seems a bit far fetched to most people. If you modify them before they're born, however, then it's far more plausible. Designer Babies are what occurs when you create, or genetically engineer embryos and then implant them into a womb (either the original mother's or, especially in the case of completely artificial genomes, a host mother's) or a Uterine Replicator.

The resulting child is often seen either as more perfect and wonderful than normal people, or as a freak/monster who should have never existed and must now be destroyed—and sometimes both at the same time by different groups of people. This is often a source of Stock Super Powers. It's also frequently the purview of the Evilutionary Biologist, who believes that humanity can be "improved" if they would only allow him to tinker with nature a bit. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

It is not uncommon to have settings, especially in Science Fiction of the Dystopian variety, in which most or all children are produced via genetic engineering/cloning. This is often done in an effort to "perfect" humanity in a belief that nature is stronger than nurture. In almost all of these settings, there will be a group of people who want to make babies the "natural" way. Whether they're right depends on which side of Science Is Bad the Aesop of the work falls on.

See also the Evilutionary Biologist and Social Darwinist.

Examples of Designer Babies include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • That's a big part of the premise behind Saber Marionette J.
  • An interesting variant occurs in Simoun, in which one of the enemy nations has replaced the traditional method of sex selection among the Human Aliens who populate the world: instead of everyone being female until 17, and choosing a sex then, the enemy nation assigns sexes to babies shortly after birth through hormones and surgery.
  • Monster includes a more realist variation on the concept- the babies produced by Franz Bonaparta's program including Johan and Anna/Nina are conceived in the normal way and carried by their own biological mothers, but their parents were handpicked by the program's supervisors and manipulated into falling in love.
  • In Vandread, humanity has split into a planet of all males called Tarak and a planet of all females called Mejare. DNA from a couple is manipulated to give a new baby. On Tarak, this means a factory birth, while on Mejare, the baby is implanted in the womb to be born normally. This makes them effectively a pair of One Gender Races, though normal breeding could be resumed. Note that these are not the only colony worlds left, just the main ones we see.
  • Gundam SEED derives much of its drama from the fact that Designer Babies (Coordinators) exist alongside naturally-born humans (Naturals), leading to racial strife and outright warfare. Though the Coordinators actually are more like designer babies, they still grow in a mothers womb and but are genetically modified shortly after conception (not before). The one true Gattaca Baby is Kira, who was grown in an artificial womb and free of the influence of a mothers hormones during pregnancy thus the 'perfect' Coordinator.
  • In Gundam Wing, all of the Winner family's children (except Quatre) were test tube babies, due to the then-current difficulties of natural birth in space.
  • The Abh from Crest of the Stars are all Designer Babies. Most embryos are created in a lab, but some are created naturally and then later taken out and adjusted in a lab. These "love children" are seen as a beneficial and generally preferred way to reproduce.
  • In the (little known) anime Himawari!, most of the ninjas, including the title character, are test tube babies, designed to be perfect ninja.
  • Ayanami Rei and Nagisa Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangelion fit this trope, minus the whole metaphysical mumbo jumbo that accompanies them and their superpowers, of course.
  • It is quite heavily implied that Aoi Hidaka, the main heroine of Dancougar Nova, was born this way.
  • In Utawarerumono, it's eventually revealed that the various Petting Zoo People actually descend from a vast series of genetic experimentation projects that was undertaken in a hidden underground lab, apparently as part of a project to reclaim the (for some reason) uninhabitable Earth above. Their ancestors were all grown in the titular jars by the human scientists.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Fate, Erio and Subaru are all the products of genetic engineering of one kind or another.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Superman's post-Crisis origin, Kryptonians are born in a "birthing matrix". Jor-El attached a star drive to Kal-El's. This essentially allowed Superman to be "born" on Earth, which was coupled with a severe winter which isolated their farm for months that allowed the Kents to claim he was their natural son and eliminated all the hassle adoption of a foundling would entail in the modern world. It also allowed for an alternate future storyline where Superman is elected President of the United States, which only people born in the United States can do. This has since been undone.
  • Y: The Last Man. After virtually the entire male population (human and animal) dies off, finding a way of cloning the surviving women (and eventually men) becomes the only way of saving the human race.
  • Marvel Comics' Thundra came from a future Lady Land Dystopia where babies are engineered in the "Temple of Genetics".


Fanfiction[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • In Gattaca, the former Trope Namer, gamete selection technology is routinely used to create the "best possible" child a pair of parents could potentially conceive. Naturally occurring conceptions are unusual, and the people born from them are regarded as inferior and suffer from discrimination, including insults such as "faithbirths", "degenerates", and "godchild" (referring to their parents' decision to throw caution to the wind and trust in faith or God to give them a healthy child).
    • Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon from 1942 has the same gamete-selection process and discrimination.
  • The Matrix: "Humans are no longer born. We are grown." However, the fact that people look the same inside and outside the matrix suggests that the sexual decisions made in the matrix are replicated in the real world by the machines.
  • The scientists in Twins were aiming to do this, but because their effort were done in the beginnings of genetic science something went wrong, the "perfectly engineered" gamete divided into two babies, who grew up to look like Danny De Vito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Demolition Man: "Eeewww, disgusting! You mean... fluid transfer?"
  • Fridge Logic (or brilliance) indicates that this is the case on board the Axiom in WALL-E.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • An early example is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, making it Older Than Television. Babies are "grown" here too (and "decanted" rather than "born"), though this was before the development of modern genetics, so they must resort to more complicated and organic means than flipping genetic switches to create their hereditary castes.
  • Utopia Example: Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The titular land is a utopia because it is inhabited only by women, who can reproduce parthenogenically (without a male), and without genetic diversity/contamination, only pass amiable, peaceful, and otherwise perfect (boring) personality genes onto their offspring.
    • Though it's really more an example of eugenics than designer babies. Women who are considered a danger to society are not allowed to breed.
  • Another 'utopian' example, is the city of Diaspar, the last bastion of humanity, in Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night/The City and the Stars, where humanity appears to have given up on sexual reproduction, in favour of an unimaginably massive database of personalities. Whenever a new person is to be born, a personality is downloaded into a created body, and assigned a couple to be its parents. When a person dies, they may choose what memories of theirs will be carried into their next incarnation, which may be millennia in the future, such is the size of the database, and those memories will become available to their new incarnation once it becomes an adult and has developed a truly unique personality through its childhood. 'Uniques', personalities seemingly generated during the creation process, do occur, but are viewed either as a wonderful accident, one of many little tricks to prevent stagnation, or as some great and possibly subversive plan by Diaspar's architects. Of course, later on it turns out that there is a second remaining pocket of humanity, Lys, where humans have chosen to be born naturally, and die without the assurance of artificial reincarnation, living an Agrarian lifestyle and having over time developed empathic capabilities. Interestingly however, neither is presented as 'right', rather, as two distinct, viable versions of utopia. The part the book presents as wrong is the two cultures decision to totally isolate themselves from one another.
  • In Woman On The Edge Of Time, this is how the Mary Suetopia society reproduces. It's all but stated that this is a necessary sacrifice to eliminate the last vestige of gender discrimination. On the upside, a child is not only raised by the whole village, but get three parents to look after and nurture it. The society also tends to be a Free-Love Future.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, the Cetagandan Haut-lords in the Vorkosiverse reproduce entirely without sex or even coupling being involved... every child is created through contracts arranged by high-ranking family members, frequently with positive genetic alterations added, then the baby cooked up in a replicator and handed to the appropriate parent. The Haut are practically considered a superhuman sub-race at this point.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe gives us the Khommites, who believed their society was perfect, and froze it by cloning themselves for a thousand years. This changed when the 81st clone of Dorsk was found to be Force-sensitive and left to become a Jedi, eventually bringing Khomm into the galactic war they had avoided up to that point due to their planet's isolation and lack of resources that anybody else cared about.
    • The Bith, a species known for intelligence as well as musical prowess, are unable to breed naturally and breed by using a machine that combines the DNA of the two parent Bith in order to create an embryo.
  • Most denizens of the Culture series are Gattaca babies. Except that most of the genetic modifications are made to increase lifespan, and to give them longer and stronger orgasms and the ability to naturally synthetize and use drugs with no ill effects.
  • In Dune, the Tleilaxu are a race of humans whose hat is Genetic Engineering - their stock in trade is custom-designed organics. People, animals, living furniture; you name it, they'll make it. This is held in stark contrast with the rest of Galactic society where all breeding is strictly natural by taboo. The Tleilaxu are therefore tolerated for their usefulness but are considered disgusting and degraded by most people. It gets even worse in the sequels when it's revealed exactly what the "axolotl tanks" they use to grow their products are.
    • Even the Benefit Gesserit, an all-female group obsessed with breeding programs, will only use natural methods of impregnation, to the point of forcing the openly-gay Baron Harkonnen to have sex with one of them. This gets ludicrous when they're worried that bloodlines may die out when all they'd have to do is obtain sperm samples and keep those in nullentropy capsules to use in worst-case scenarios. These women claim to be entirely rational (they despise love because it clouds reasoning) but refuse to break irrational taboos. In fact, the only time this is broken is by one of them who does it out of love. Tessia offers to impregnate herself with Rhombur Vernius's half-brother's preserved semen, as Rhombur himself is unable to have children.
  • In a number of stories by Isaac Asimov, Spacers try to reproduce this way, only to find the feotus only takes fully and grows when conceived the old-fashioned way.
  • Parodied in Mallworld, where human babies are produced to order by birth factories ... not because it's necessary or mandated by the state, but because designer babies are trendy.
  • In Laura Mixon's Burning the Ice, all of the colonists are clones grown in vitro. Each colonist is a member of a pair of clone twins or triplets, which also belongs to a family of clone siblings of various ages. The protagonist, Manda, is unusual in that she's a singleton, though she does have older clone siblings of the Carli Pablo group.
  • Partial example, in The Darksword Trilogy, sex is banned and impregnation must take place magically.
  • In The Court Of The Air, female slaves in Cassarabia wish their wombs were used to incubate this trope, and not the Biological Mashup monstrosities which the local bio-wizards dream up.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Domination of the Draka series, the Draka, starting in the late 20th Century, gene-engineer their own babies for physical strength, speed and endurance, their serfs' babies for docility, all babies for intelligence. By the 25th Century humanity in the solar system has split into two distinct species, which by design are not interfertile: Homo drakensis and Homo servus. The drakensis are designed for war and survival, almost impossible to kill, do not age physically after the age of 25, and exude pheromones they can use to emotionally dominate servus and unmodified Homo sapiens. (They're also constantly horny, incredibly sexy, and universally bisexual.) A Draka female, ordinarily sterile, is still capable of bearing their own babies, if she takes a month to get her uterus up and running by biofeedback techiques, but it is considered perverse; all drakensis are gestated by implanting fertilized ova into servus host-mothers, or mechanical "orthowombs."
  • In The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk, post-eco-apocalypse southern California is ruled by a high-tech religious dictatorship with several genetically engineered slave-castes—some bred for war, some for sexual recreation.
  • In the Humanx Commonwealth universe, the outlawed Evilutionary Biologists known as the Meliorare Society used this method to produce their "test subjects", including the series' primary protagonist, Flinx.
  • The inhabitants of Sulva (Earth's Moon) are said to be born this way in That Hideous Strength. Apparently they can only be turned on by sexbots and therefore can't make babies the normal way.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Friday, human society has learned to grow custom-tailored humans and other creatures; these are known as "Artificial Persons" if they are superficially human and "Living Artifacts" if they are clearly not human. Both are subject to a great deal of Fantastic Racism; the eponymous protagonist is an AP and suffers from a crushing inferiority neurosis because of it.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Genome, many parents choose to "specialize" their children before they're born, if they can afford it. The children grow up normal, but at puberty their bodies and minds undergo changes that irreversibly determine their life path. Furthermore, they don't care because every Spec loves his or her job. They're programmed to love it. These modifications range from enhanced logical reasoning for detectives to extra joints for fighters, not to mention enhanced reflexes and strength. Also, starship pilots, detectives, and tax inspectors are incapable of love, as it clouds judgment. On the other hand, hetaeras (call girls) are conditioned to fall in love with their clients and be unable to fall out of love until their client reciprocates. There is plenty of distrust between the Specs and the Naturals, even though everyone has some sort of gene therapy done on them as a fetus, like corrected eyesight and fixed genetic defects. Some jobs simply cannot be done by Naturals, like power specialist who are genetically-modified to handle high doses of radiation (shield it mostly with their skin and long hair).
    • Interestingly, at least one job that is assumed to be Spec-only can be done by an extremely-skilled Natural. This is shown in the novel where a Natural becomes a starship navigator, a job that requires one to memorize the multidimensional (about 18D) map of the galaxy and be able to plot a safe and fast course through FTL. He turns out to be a pretty good navigator, despite his preference for wearing skirts (not kilts).
    • The protagonist mentions that, by law, every Spec has a right to remove his or her specialization. However, in practice, this never happens. For one, each Spec loves his or her job. And two, many changes are simply irreversible.
  • In Honor Harrington, Manpower, Inc. specializes in these. Everything from technicians to miners to jugglers and entertainers. Skrags in the backstory are a mix of Gattaca Baby and Transhuman, with the nastiest containing so many artificial improvements they were sterile and long dead. Many characters are actually somewhat 'Genie' as Honor herself. But due to the horror of the Skrags, anything Transhuman is looked down on. The new Arc is a war between Transhumanists and baselines that started as a break in philosophy.
  • In Infinity Beach, genetic engineering is common. The main character, Kimberly, is a clone of her older sister Emily.
  • In Kevin J. Anderson's Blindfold, the Truthsayers are a group of genetically-engineered people trained from birth with the use of the Veritas drug, which temporarily increases their brains' receptive abilities, allowing them to detect another brain's EM impulses (i.e. read thoughts). While it is possible for a normal person to use the drug, the results are unpredictable. There is also the fact that it is a gross violation of privacy. Since the Truthsayers have no familial or genetic ties to anyone outside their group, they are used as Living Lie Detectors. Their verdict in court cases is final. However, not all trainees become Truthsayers, meaning the genetically-engineered process is not perfect.
  • SL Viehl's Stardoc series follows a young female doctor named Cherijo Torin, who discovers in the first novel that she is a genetically-modified clone of her "father", who eventually wanted to marry her. That's right, not only did he want to screw himself (and later novels indicate that he already did that with his male clones) but he wanted to do it with someone he raised as his daughter. Cherijo (who name is, actually, an acronym meaning "Comprehensive Human Enhancement Research ID: J Organism") discovers that she is immune to any disease, as her body actively fights against any foreign organism in her (which causes problems when she gets pregnant), and has a Healing Factor (in a later novel, she is perfectly willing to throw herself from a big height in order to get a winged friend to save her, even though her colleague later points out that, while her body would probably heal, any brain damage would be permanent).
    • Oh, and genetic engineering is forbidden in human space (except by her "father", who has helped to pass the law and received special dispensation), and any "freak" is to be caught and executed as a non-person. When the colony finds out that she is a clone, some of the Jerkass characters immediately start calling her "it", claiming that her "intelligence" is merely an imitation programmed into her.
  • My Sister's Keeper features an extremely mild version of this. Anna was genetically engineered to be an exact donor match for her cancer-stricken older sister Kate. The main plot of the book is Anna suing her parents to escape having to donate a kidney to Kate.
  • C.J. Cherryh's Alliance Union universe has the Union using genetically engineered "azi" to rapidly increase their population, azi are separated into castes designated by Greek letters (with alphas being geniuses) but the differences in intelligence don't necessarily breed true when they are freed and have children.
  • Basically the premise of Replica.


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In Blakes Seven, crewmember Cally is from Auron, a world where parents clone themselves to create their children. Auron had only started to do it several decades previously, so there were also people who were 'born of natural birth'. Cally herself had a twin sister Zelda.
  • Ransik's villain motivation in Power Rangers Time Force is that, in the year 3000, he was a mutant instead of a designer baby like everyone else, and was a pariah growing up. In fact, all of the Monsters of the Week are mutant accidents.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Daughter", there's an entire society created by machines which spilt one persons cells into a sets of haploid cells and recombines them to make a new adult in seconds.
  • Space: Above and Beyond had "Tanks", vat-grown, genetically selected humans made to fill a worldwide labor shortage after a partial Depopulation Bomb, and then abandoned when no longer needed. Naturally, they are the target of prejudice and stereotype.
  • In one episode of Picket Fences, it's discovered that a reproductive services clinic is gestating human babies inside of cows. One infertile woman who has contracted for her child to be grown this way says that this is done to bypass the legal minefields associated with hiring a human surrogate mother. ("I own the cow!") Subverted in that nothing is said about selecting for superior genetic traits, and the use of cows as surrogates is voluntary on the part of the parents, albeit done in secret to avoid controversy.
  • In the Star Trek franchise, Earth suffers a terrible series of Eugenics Wars in the near future between normal humans and genetic "augments." By the logic that "superior ability breeds superior ambition," these young ubermensch all tend to suffer a Napoleon complex, leading them to war not just with mankind, but with each other. Humanity wins, with the lasting result that genetic engineering of human beings is outlawed and held in universal contempt for centuries afterward. The two most well known augments in Trek are Kirk's archnemesis Khan Noonien Singh; and Deep Space Nine's doctor Julian Bashir, who was augmented illegally.
  • In Century City, a fertility specialist is sued for having his clients babies turn out gay.
  • Played with a lot on The X-Files. There are many attempts to make a human/alien hybrid. Most notable was Emily, Scully's daughter, who ends up dying soon after she meets her. And though many attemps are made, nothing sticks. All the hybrids die. This becomes a problem when Scully conceives William, who is what everyone involved in the conspiracy has been after—a human alien hybrid gestated naturally. And why the hype? After realizing that their deal with the aliens has gone south and the world will be taken over by an alien virus in 2012, the good guys seek to use William to find a way to stop that from happening. The bad guys want to stop the good guys. Which equals many near-death experiences for itty bitty William.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Paranoia, in which everyone's a clone. Six times over, in fact.
    • Well, sort of... some times. In early editions there were clone families of six that were decanted and raised in the same environment, and treated more or less as one person. This did not make sense (not that Alpha Complex ever does), as we're left wondering where the other 5 are most of the time (it was occasionally addressed, but mostly just left off-camera). Later editions have it so every citizen is, theoretically, cloned when they die (except traitors that have earned an erasure), but the red tape delays it to the point of never happening, but Troubleshooters have six immediate backups because they are in highly lethal situations, but with important missions that must be completed. Higher ups tend to buy more packs of six clones when needed, and Ultraviolets are so important the Computer gives them an essentially infinite number of quick clones. This still doesn't make sense, but in a way that works.
  • In BattleTech, the 'trueborn warriors' of the Clans are an entire caste of super soldiers who are created this way, descendants of the 600 loyalists who served Nicolai Kerensky after the SLDF exodus led by his father collapsed into anarchy. Only those who have proven themselves in battle have the honor of having their 'genetic legacy' preserved in the breeding program; between this and being raised in The Spartan Way, perhaps only one trueborn in a hundred actually has any descendants (at least in the warrior caste itself), especially since they are considered to be over the hill at 35.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Discussed in the song "Oh, Happy Day" from the musical Li'l Abner.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • An old DOS game called Gender Wars plays off this trope - in the game world, human males and females are embroiled in a literal battle of the sexes, each intent on exterminating the other. Because traditional reproduction is effectively banned, each side uses artificial means of conception and incubation to maintain their populations. The twist, of course, is that neither side possesses the means to reproduce without "help" from the other; the males routinely attack female storage facilities to steal frozen eggs, while the females do the same to male bases to obtain sperm samples.
  • In Prototype Hunters-a Giant Mook superhuman mutant-are grown from normal humans by being stuffed into sacs or water towers flooded with the Blacklight virus. Hunters do not screw, they'd rather fight.
  • Miranda Lawson from Mass Effect 2 is one of these. Her father is wealthy and influential man, thus his desire to create a genetically-modified specimen, a daughter with superhuman abilities, intelligence, and, ahem "talented" in every way. The same goes for her twin sister as well.
    • It seems that Daddy may have put in some "Fabrication Rights Management" into Miranda, as the dossier on her that the Shadow Broker has indicates she may be infertile. Wonderful guy, her dad.
    • Grunt is another example, designed to be a Super Soldier even by krogan standards. Thanks to Neural Implanting, he's "born" with the body and vocabulary of a young adult but no sense of place or direction (enter the player character...).
    • Humanity as a whole is moving towards this. By the twenty-second century, genetic engineering has advanced to the point where the majority of genetic disorders have been cured. Governments provide free screening and genetic modification to prospective parents, and as a result everything from near-sightedness to cystic fibrosis has been cured. While IVF is the preferred method of modification, it can also be done on embryos and newborns out of respect for personal belief.
  • The Sivadians in OtherSpace have taken genetic modification in two directions. First, to create beautiful, intelligent, athletic offspring. Second, to create specialized slaves, designed to be the best there is at what they do to better serve their masters.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • All Coalition (Ourkind) soldiers are created this way in Unlikely Eden.
  • The superiors, tweaks, splices/rianths and most nearbaselines in Orion's Arm were created through generations of germline genetic engineering. Since it's been going on for thousands of years now, it's regarded as normal and no one has any problem with it - indeed, almost no true completely unmodified baseline humans are around any more.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Dr. Bunnigus from Schlock Mercenary was a Gattaca Baby as the result of eugenic laws; her inbred and mentally limited parents were required to improve their child, so they gave her a genius IQ and a stripper's body. Her first name, Edward, is because the parents read "E.D." on her genetic profile (for Exotic Dancer) and thought Ed was her proposed name; wanting to show class, they went with the full name "Edward" instead. What's more, she's black (or some brownish ethnicity), and they're both white hillbillies, so apparently their many social problems did not include racism.
  • In Homestuck, All four kids are revealed to be these, John and Jade being made from Grandpa's and Nana's combined DNA, and Rose and Dave being made from Mom's and Bro's. According to the trolls, anyone who's destined to play Sburb is created in this manner.
    • In the same sequence, it's revealed that the Guardians (Grandpa, Nana, Mom, and Bro) are all clones of themselves. It's not clear from what, if any, source the genetic material of the kids destined to play the game comes, but it seems to some degree to be tailored to success at Sburb.
  • Winston Thurmad was born to well-meaning parents who were convinced that humanity was going to be living exclusively in space by the time he grew up, so they splurged on all manner of genetic modifications optimized for life in zero-G. Most of them are internal modifications to protect against various forms of atrophy and otherwise optimize him for life on a spacecraft, but he can't grow hair either.
  • Word of God explanation for Rhonda in Umlaut House 2, who has two biological fathers. A throwaway line by her grandmother towards the end of the first series implied that this is fairly common in their era.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Exo Squad has an interesting reversal. While humans are born naturally, the Genetically-engineered Neosapiens are artificially grown by the "brood." At the end of the series, one of the Neosapiens, Marsala, lobbies with the government to allow the creation of one final brood that's capable of natural breeding.


Real Life[edit | hide]