Let's say we have a human man that was somewhat genetically modified from the very beginning (conception?) by a team of scientists, and is also a product of careful selective breeding. They did this hoping to produce a specimen that would certain physical characteristics such as superior size and strength, speed, vision, sense of smell, things like that that would result in a "perfect soldier" type of man.

Is it plausible that the team of scientists, like Craig Venter's team, could have installed Watermarks in this man's DNA that would show up on a DNA fingerprint? A DNA fingerprint done by the American FBI?

A user on this forum suggested this possibility in a former thread, so I mean no disrespect to that user by asking this question. I'm just interested in feedback from others. I am writing a novel and this is research for the story. Without getting too deep into specifics, I'm trying to find a way for the authorities to become alerted to the fact that this man is abnormal from other humans.

Any input greatly appreciated.


Basically, I am dipping my toe into the deep end of the pool. I know only the very basics of DNA fingerprinting and Genetic engineering, so technical language is hard for me to follow. I appreciate the answers very much but I'm still a little in the dark. Another user on this forum suggested that possibly "watermarks" might show up on the test, which is why I'm attempting to rephrase the question.

I have written a scene into my novel wherein my main character, a man that has been genetically engineered, unbeknownst to him, gets into a fracas with some bad guys and he wreaks havoc and escapes. The American FBI gets some of his DNA from the scene and works up a DNA Fingerprint on him, purely for the purposes of identification if they catch him. so, yeah, just like on CSI or whatever on TV. When the technicians complete the fingerprint, they recognize that something is different about this person and they contact the lead investigator to let him know. Perhaps they see some evidence of genetic modification or something that raises their eyebrows and they feel it's worth mentioning.

So, essentially all I'm asking is if that is at all possible, and what could they conceivably have seen in the fingerprint? If it's completely not plausible then I'll either delete the scene or rewrite it.


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how this question is different from your other question. Importantly, DNA fingerprinting does not look at the sequence of DNA. Such modifications would only show up if they alter the length of a genetic locus being tested. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ As was alluded to in your last question, it is plausible. It would require that the loci that DNA fingerprinting analyses be altered in length as canadianer said above. I would have thought that that would be enough 'support' for the case for a novel. It would be pretty easy to state that the FBI just sequenced the DNA sample though, then you could say much more about what they might find. Bearing in mind this is a science fiction novel, so what is 'plausible' is kinda up to you, and how far in the future the story is set? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Healey
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ It's not really in the future. There are no dates but the entire story takes place in a present day setting. The laboratory technicians notice something in the fingerprint that makes them curious about the suspect. They call the lead investigator to ask who their suspect is because something is odd about the fingerprint. The investigator informs them that he's just a man and asks what the problem is. What does the lab technician tell him? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ This would only happen if the FBI was looking for that particular watermark or had some other reason to be suspicious. It would not show up as unusual on a standard DNA fingerprinting test for identification. There isn't really anything unusual that can show up on those tests. It also isn't scientifically sound to use those tests on a general database, this increases the odds for false positives tremendously. Instead, DNA tests are most useful when you already have a suspect and you want to verify that evidence at the scene is from that suspect. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 22:55

3 Answers 3


The "watermarks" that you're referring to sound exactly like DNA fingerprints: stretches of DNA that are unique to an individual. These unique stretches occur naturally in all individuals, but specific artificial sequences could theoretically be inserted via techniques such as CRISPR.

Once inserted, these artificial sequences could be searched for specifically through PCR, if the sequence is known, or through traditional enzymatic restriction methods, such as described in the first link.

It's worth mentioning that in order to be easily detected, your watermarks would most likely have to be inserted into the germ line of these genetically modified humans. Otherwise, you'd only be able to get the watermark sequences into a small region of tissue. Once in the germ line, the body's own DNA replication mechanism takes over copying those sequences throughout the organism.

Good luck writing!


In principle, sure--as long as you're not looking in his KIDS (remember 1/2 his DNA goes into kid; 1/2 lost). The technique could still work if the watermark were very close to or part of the 'special' DNA sequences.

Also depends somewhat on your meaning of 'fingerprint'; if you are adding new DNA, then besides the functional sequences, you could add a 'signature' of any sequence you wished. Since we know the sequence of many human genomes, you could pick a stretch that's very different from any known sequence. There are many techniques to ask "Is sequence 'XXXXXXXXXXX' present in this DNA sample?". It would not need to be very long, and for certainty, you could drop 3-4 different, unique 'watermarks'. It's also reasonable that the genetic modifications themselves are unique sequences, so no further signature would be needed.


A "DNA fingerprint" is a set of about 13 loci which consist of repetitive elements, and you look at the size of those repetitive elements. I guess you could if you could invent your own into someone's genome of unique sizes, there would be no functional purpose.

If you gave a person multiple alleles of those regions, such that it looked like the person had more than 2 alleles at each locus, that would probably get someone's attention, depending on how automated the software that assesses those PCR products is. But there is no functional reason for someone to alter a genome like that. You need to find a reason for researchers to go out of their way to do that.

If the researchers wanted the ability to find their creation with a DNA test, they could easily put in a region of sequence which most people would never intend to probe with appropriate PCR primers. In the future, whole genome sequencing might be cheap enough that you could see everything, and a large section of unexpected sequence could in theory be detected and flagged. A very small sequence might be ignored by anyone not looking for it as noise.

If your "careful breeding" means "inbreeding", your subject might be homozygous at lots, or all of the standard loci, and that might raise flags. It wouldn't scream "genetically engineered" but it might be weird enough to get someone's attention.


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