In Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood series, do the Oankali have DNA as their prime mechanism of genetics? If so, did Butler ever explained how that would be the case (is this panspermia related, did Oankali seed Earth)?

From a science point of view, it seems unlikely DNA specifically would evolve on different planets. But it also seems like it would be challenging for Oankali to blend genes between different genetic encoding mechanisms.

2 Answers 2


It doesn't really matter if they have DNA or not. The advanced ooloi can detect and manipulate matter within living organisms on an atomic level, so not being based on DNA wouldn't make them incompatible with humans.

Given that the Oankali have three distinct tribes that are altered for their purpose, it's possible that the Oankali who breed with the humans were already altered to have more human DNA. Or not. The ooloi really do have very soft sci-fi unlimited powers to alter genetic material on any platform.


The details of Oankali reproductive chemistry aren't addressed in the story, just the social and personal effects. Like many authors, Octavia Butler was more concerned with the effect than the cause. Her work generally falls well on the "soft" side of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.

The, erm, discussion between "soft" and "hard" SFF has been going on a long time. In the end it's just a matter of personal preference.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.