The process of making and transferring changes is pretty straightforward relatively speaking in an embroyo. You change the DNA of one cell and all the cells now inherit this change.

But let's say that after x amount of years from now on we are capable of creating perfect changes to the DNA of a person. What could the process of transferring this change be for an adult human being? Given that there are about approx. One trillion cells in our body, is it even possible to change it?

I think that using a designed virus could be one way, T4 bacteriophages do a pretty good job of taking over the nuclear material of the bacteria. But I don't think it can be too effective given that most of the viral activity is restricted to the blood. Also I don't think the blood brain barrier let's the viruses across.

Highly speculative topic but I would appreciate any insights on this.

  • $\begingroup$ What has your research told you? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    May 20, 2019 at 0:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause He's given a decent rundown of his research. I think it's reasonable that he's posing the question to the community now. It's a speculative topic (as he said) but I think interesting to some people here. $\endgroup$
    – sterid
    May 20, 2019 at 4:12
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @sterid. That being said, I would consider the question "Is it possible to change the DNA of all the cells of an adult human" to be on-topic but the question "Assuming it will be possible to change the DNA of all the cells of an adult human in the future, what are the possible ways for this to happen" to be border line off-topic and should maybe rather be asked on worldbuilding.SE. I am not sure which question the OP is asking. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    May 20, 2019 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ I apologize for the confusion. The latter isn't my question, it's an assumption necessary to make to pave way for the question that whether or not is it possible to implement the change made in the DNA of one cell to be implemented in now a trillion cells. By "what are the possible ways for this to happen?" I am not referring to the ways of changing the DNA but to implement the change presumably made. $\endgroup$
    – Arkilo
    May 20, 2019 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @sterid OP is speculating that maybe a virus could be used, and the question doesn't mention anything to suggest they have considered existing approaches to use viruses to change adult human DNA. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    May 20, 2019 at 13:37

1 Answer 1


Is it possible to change the DNA of all the cells of an adult human?

In development? Yes.

Changes in the DNA prior to S-phase in the zygote will result in all the cells inheriting the changed DNA. Before or during the 1-cell stage in embryology, any changes will be ubiquitous in the developing adult and all their cells.

In the adult? No.

No technologies for this exist. None are on the horizon either, to my knowledge. The closest concepts are in targeted gene therapy. There are plenty of workable ideas, but they are all restricted to specific targets.

In the future? Most probably not.

In all cells, in all tissues, in a controlled manner? I very much doubt it, it's an extremely complex undertaking, and (all) the laws of statistics and chemistry are against you. We can speculate all we want but all in all, it's smarter to make the changes in specified locations (see answer two), or at the right time (see answer one).

  • $\begingroup$ As an addendum: think of it this way... You can achieve interior design in many ways. You can move your couch around to achieve an aesthetic, or you can draw a plan before you furnish a room to save the trouble of experimenting. Similarly, here too we can speculate about whether it's possible to detonate dynamite in your living room as a way to rearrange your furniture in a pleasing manner. It's probably not going to be a method of approach in the future, simply because the alternatives are a hell of a lot easier, and likelier to bring more tangible results. $\endgroup$
    – S Pr
    May 20, 2019 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ But the question wasn't "is it possible now?" but "could we in the future". And your answer is the subjective "probably not". The question is off-topic and best ignored until there are enough votes for close. You certainly haven't answered it. $\endgroup$
    – David
    May 20, 2019 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @David I don't think anyone can actually answer this question cause apparently we just don't know enough about epigenetics and gene expression yet. $\endgroup$
    – Arkilo
    May 21, 2019 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ @SPr I don't agree with this not being a preferred method of approach in the future. Let's say a human is born on earth but it turns out that he will have to spend a significant portion of his life in space for whatever reasons. He probably won't want to be stuck with a body that isn't adapted to space. The window of changing the DNA before birth is very small and it does not contain the consent of the actual person. So given that everyone wants their DNA changed when they are adults, won't the next question be that how to sync the DNA of all the cells with this newer version. $\endgroup$
    – Arkilo
    May 21, 2019 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Arkilo Do you think research in the future will aim to change DNA in every single cell in the adult body? I will pay you the compliment of assuming you understand how stupefyingly unlikely that is to work. Restricting to small areas or subtypes of cells (e.g. progenitors) is already in development though. I'm also sure we can agree it's easier to make a spaceship hospitable and build spacesuits to protect from radiation, rather than mutating DNA comprehensively, precisely and confidently enough to make us radiation or lack-of-oxygen tolerant. Even our pedant David would probably agree! $\endgroup$
    – S Pr
    May 21, 2019 at 11:46

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