Star Trek’s Federation Knows Its Genetic Engineering Ban is Wrong

Ricardo Montalban and Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien-Singh

The Federation’s ban on genetic engineering is wrong, and a new Star Trek comic explores why.

Warning; contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The Illyrian Engima #1The ban on genetic engineering in the Star Trek universe is wrong–and the Federation knows it. In IDW Publishing’s new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The Illyrian Enigma #1, the crew deals with the fallout from the show’s season one finale, which saw Number One, who is genetically modified, arrested by Starfleet officials. Now, her crewmates are grappling with what has happened, making it clear this law is unfair, and unjust. The issue is on sale now in print and digital.


Genetic engineering is a crime in the United Federation of Planets, stemming from Khan Noonien Singh and his Augments, genetically modified humans who almost destroyed the Earth. This left a bad taste in humanity’s mouth, resulting in a ban on the practice centuries later. Of course, this has not stopped humans from trying, and genetic modification became a central plot point in not only Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (where the rule was first introduced) but also Star Trek: Into Darkness. Strange New Worlds has picked this plot point up; Una Chin-Riley, AKA Number One, is a genetically modified Illyrian. Una lied on her Starfleet application, omitting that she was Illyrian. When the truth came to light, she was arrested and taken into custody.

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Now, her Enterprise crew mates are grappling with what happened. Uhura, Ortegas and Nurse Chapel are having dinner in the mess hall–and discussing the situation regarding Number One. Uhura calls the situation “complicated,” while Ortegas believes that the ban is “archaic” and a slap in the face to the concepts of diversity and acceptance–pillars upon which the Federation is built. Nurse Chapel explains that the Illyrians are still largely unknown and judging them by Federation standards is unfair. Uhura decides that Starfleet will not listen to them on the matter, so they must make them listen. The issue is written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson, illustrated by Megan Levens, colored by Charlie Kirchoff and lettered by Neil Uyetake.

Star Trek Genetic Engineering Ban

The Federation’s Ban on Genetics is Reactionary

The Federation’s stance on genetic engineering is a sticky one, arising from a dark chapter in human history. Genetically modified super people did indeed almost destroy Earth; the adage “once bitten, twice shy” applies here. Yet the Federation’s official position on the topic is reactionary, and short-sighted. First, there are species, such as the Illyrians, who practice it on the regular, and it is warp and woof in their culture. Ortegas is correct in that expecting other species to adhere to this rule runs counter to the Federation’s principles of diversity and tolerance; why are other species being punished for the actions of 20th/21st-century humans? Furthermore, what if genetic engineering could save lives? This topic has been explored in various Star Trek shows and novels, particularly with the character of Doctor Julian Bashir from Deep Space Nine. The ban on genetic engineering still persists to the 24th century, meaning the crew of the Enterprise will not convince the Federation to do an about-face. While they will no doubt be successful in eventually freeing Una, the ban will stand.

The topic of genetic engineering in the Star Trek universe is here to stay; not only has Strange New Worlds explored the ramifications of the ban, but Star Trek: Prodigy as well. Both shows have taken nuanced looks at the law, but one thing is clear: the ban is wrong–and the Federation knows it.

Next: Star Trek’s New Godlike Species Explained: The Shapers of Sarkadesh

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The Illyrian Enigma #1 is on sale now from IDW Publishing!

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