Was Khan Noonien Singh the result of a genetically-enhanced embryo, or was he enhanced at a later point in his life?

From my recollection, this is not specifically addressed in the TOS episode "Space Seed", in The Wrath of Khan, or in the DS9 episode "Dr. Bashir, I Presume?" (which makes a brief reference to Khan in light of Bashir's enhancement).

Information from the extended universe, including novels and comics, is welcome.


4 Answers 4


To be the man in his mid-forties that we saw in "Space Seed" Khan would have had to have been born around 1950. While the idea of a genetic supermolecule had been around for decades, the Watson and Crick model of DNA didn't come around until 1953. So unless you also posit random experiments that only the likes of a Josef Mengele would perform, there were no genetic supermen before 1953 and none most probably decades after that.

However, those experiments apparently did take place. In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Cold Station 12", there is a battle between extant genetic supermen called "augments" and Enterprise over a medical facility containing a large number of "augment" embryos. These embryos were left over from the Eugenic Wars, and were first created in the 1950's by scientists trying to improve the human species. There is no definitive declaration that Khan was an augmented embryo, but every other augment mentioned on the series, including children, were spawned from such an embryo. Tweaking gene expression or doing gene resequencing after birth is never mentioned.

So based on this evidence my best guess is that Khan was born with his superhuman gifts.

  • 1
    Thanks, I like this answer. There is an exception, however: Julian Bashir. He was augmented after birth, as explained in DS9. However, this took place hundreds of years later and the motivations were very different...so perhaps not so much of an exception.
    – Praxis
    May 28, 2015 at 4:16
  • 2
    Well, Khan looked fourtyish but the effects of long term hibernation on sleeper ships were not know. He might have aged in looks while asleep for 200 years.
    – user16696
    May 28, 2015 at 5:49
  • 1
    Keep in mind that the Star Trek version of Earth and our own version of Earth diverged at WWII.
    – Omegacron
    May 28, 2015 at 17:45

If you are interested in more (non-canon) background on Khan, check out Greg Cox's book series "The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh". It not only covers the circumstances of his birth and his reign on Earth, but the final book actually details the events between Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan.

According to the first book, The Eugenics Wars, Khan was the creation of an advanced science group using genetically-enhanced embryos.

  • Appreciate the tip, but do the books contain anything specifically regarding the question?
    – Praxis
    May 29, 2015 at 3:44
  • Yes, they do. According to the books, Khan was the result of genetically-enhanced embryos. May 29, 2015 at 11:43

Originally, Khan was not genetically engineered at all. In "Space Seed," he was the product of controlled breeding:

SPOCK: No such vessel listed. Records of that period are fragmentary, however. The mid-1990s was the era of your last so-called World War.

McCOY: The Eugenics Wars.

SPOCK: Of course. Your attempt to improve the race through selective breeding.

McCOY: Now, wait a minute. Not our attempt, Mister Spock. A group of ambitious scientists. I'm sure you know the type. Devoted to logic, completely unemotional.

I'm not sure if Star Trek II made it clear whether that was still the case. As of DS9 it appears that it's been retconned to have been genetic engineering, but I don't think there's a canon source indicating whether it was done before or after his birth.

EDIT: As Praxis commented, in Star Trek II, Khan had been genetically engineered. Not the first time Star Trek slipped a continuity cog, of course.

  • In Wrath of Khan, Khan claims, "It was only the fact of my genetically-engineered intellect that allowed us to survive."
    – Praxis
    May 31, 2015 at 1:47
  • It's both. Controlled breeding and engineering. Why waste time engineering from defective stock?
    – user16696
    May 31, 2015 at 1:59
  • 1
    @cde Reasonable assumption, but in "Space Seed" there was no mention of genetic engineering (which makes sense given when the episode was written). May 31, 2015 at 3:08
  • No, but controlled genetics could mean selective breeding or active manipulation of genes. I mean even today, isn't gene therapy, selective breeding, and germ level gene editing all types of genetic engineering? I think we are hung up on terms.
    – user16696
    May 31, 2015 at 3:31
  • @cde I haven't seen a definition of "genetic engineering" that would cover selective breeding. It's possible that terminology could have changed by the 23rd century, of course. May 31, 2015 at 3:47

According to https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/91203/16696/, an official comic created by IDW based on Star Trek Into Darkness, Khan was born in 1970 and underwent augmentation over the decade after his mother died. He was not a embryonic augment.

  • Interesting...different sources are conflicting one another.
    – Praxis
    May 31, 2015 at 1:47
  • Of course, we can't expect Nero to be the only time altering event in the Nu trek universe. Someone in the new timeline has obviously time traveled and changed events after. I mean before, Nero did. where is that damn star fleet temporal agency when you need them @praxis
    – user16696
    May 31, 2015 at 4:05
  • One minor correction: in the comic Khan is shown to be a teenager (14-ish) in 1971 so he was born in the late 1950s.
    – user45485
    May 31, 2015 at 10:19

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