Published May 24, 2022
Strange New Worlds 101: Genetic Engineering
A deep dive into a divisive Starfleet topic
By StarTrek.com Staff
Spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode three to follow!
Welcome back to Strange New Worlds 101! We’ve tackled lighter topics like the Prime Directive and the Kirk family for the past two weeks, but today, we’re diving deep into one of the most controversial parts of Star Trek’s canon: genetic engineering. This issue has been at the heart of many of Trek’s most thoughtful episodes, and Strange New Worlds follows this trend.
Genetic engineering in Federation worlds is strictly forbidden after the Eugenics Wars on Earth. We get a hint at the Eugenics Wars when, in Star Trek: Picard season two, Dr. Soong has his medical license stripped away for his work in eugenics; at the end of the season, the only file he has left is something titled “The Khan Project.” That name is enough to send chills down the spines of most Trek fans, as we know what that points to.
Khan Noonien Singh is perhaps the most iconic villain in the franchise. First introduced in the TOS episode “Space Seed,” Khan is a genetically engineered tyrant who, along with his fellow Augments, was banished from Earth following the Eugenics Wars and who later became a rival of Captain James Kirk. The wars centered on Augmented humans taking over parts of the planet and becoming dictators, ruling over their territories with an iron fist. Following the end of the second Eugenics War, which led into World War 3, genetic engineering was banned in Federation space, as Starfleet feared the rise of another Khan.
Genetic engineering might be illegal, but that didn’t stop some Federation families from seeking it out for their children. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Dr. Julian Bashir was revealed to be an Augment in the season five episode “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” and was nearly removed from Starfleet as a result. Throughout the franchise, other societies that engaged in genetic engineering made appearances, but the rule against genetic engineering in Federation space never changed.
Genetic engineering plays a huge role in the latest Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode, “Ghosts of Illyria.” The Illyrians are not a part of the Federation due to their genetic engineering, but they are a friendly species. However, in a dramatic moment, Una reveals she is Illyrian, and the reason that she is immune to the virus spreading across the Enterprise is due to her modifications. The cure may lie in her blood.
The other way that genetic engineering impacts the crew is via La’an Noonien Singh, a descendant of Khan himself. She has dealt with the stigma of her infamous relative for her entire life, which has not helped her when it comes to connecting with others. When Una’s secret comes out, she feels betrayed by a woman who helped her and who she considered a mentor and friend. While the episode ends with their bond tentatively mended, it’s still a shocking and important moment in their friendship.
At the end of the episode, Una offers to resign her commission and face consequences for lying about her genetic background, but Pike does not report her to Starfleet. Will this lead to problems down the road? Only the writers of the show know!
Read our recap of “Ghosts of Illyria” here, and let us know your favorite moment on social!