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Metagenes are a unique genetic component that create superhuman capabilities in certain individuals. It is a product of evolution and genetic tampering by an ancient race of immortals called Celestials. Around .00005% of the global population of humans has such genetic markers.

Metagenes often lie dormant, sometimes for an entire lifetime. The source code of the Celestial DNA code is encoded in the amygdala and is triggered as a result of significant stress. It is a 'lifesaver' of sorts for the subject, rapidly rebuilding the genome with new DNA to protect the host. Extreme stresses can include injury, radiation, poisoning, toxic materials, or even birth. The mortality rate for artificially-induced metagene events is staggeringly high. Even the 'successful' experiments produce many deranged and deformed individuals (who often turn into major security risks).

Biologists still struggle to understand the precise mechanism of this genetic recompiling. The fatality rate for metagene events is extremely high even without outside interference. Traditional medical practitioners suspect that part of the process draws upon the subconscious awareness of the subject to 'shape' the powers that they acquire, along lines of cultural or ethnological tropes and themes. This is a view disregarded by much of the mainstream medical community.

A variant of the metagene has been identified as the X-gene, which has given rise to the prevalence of mutants. Unlike the emergency encoding contained in the brain, the X-gene carries normally on the back of the cellular chromosomes and is detectable with a chromosomal profiler or cellular scans. X-genes are still activated by the amygdala, specifically triggered at the onset of puberty due to the rising levels of cortisol. It is possible but rare for the X-gene to manifest earlier in life, including instances where the patient was exposed to intense stress for that deliberate purpose.

Classes of Metahuman

Most metahuman talents are barely detectable, manifesting as heightened metabolism and motor skills, or increased intelligence and low level empathic/telepathic talents. These abilities are exceptional by most people's standards, but not to the point of being noticeably superhuman.

Metahuman talents are rarely diverse and tend to fit a few common categorizations. The most common metahuman abilities tend to be lumped into rough groups: 'bruisers' with increased physical characteristics; 'movers' with telekinetic capabilities; 'psychics' capable of telepathic or empathic communication; 'witches' capable of channeling magic; and 'blasters' who can channel energy biologically. Metahumans are also prone to exaggerated development of secondary physical characteristics, such as grossly deformed skeletal and muscular development.

Science and discovery

The most substantial research into metagenes was conducted by Nathaniel Essex. His research carried on through World War II under the pseudonym of Josef Mengele. His work on Johann Schmidt was stolen by Professor Abraham Erskine and used to advance the US-led Super-Soldier Program. This is the only known means for empowering someone without the metagene. The program's sole, unqualified success was Steve Rogers, for reasons still unknown to scientists.

Following the war, Essex disguised himself yet again and folded the Super-Soldier notes into the new Weapon Plus program to advance the study of metahumans. Logan Howlett became one of the first 'codes' to be deciphered, which is why accelerated healing is a common trait among Weapon X survivors/products. Experimentation revealed the most efficient method for metagene therapy was to start with someone who has survived a previous metagene activation. The military is a good proving ground for this theory. CADMUS prefers to use military personnel with active combat experience as a source of fresh metahumans. The successes are assigned to the Special Operation Teams of Stormwatch.

Activated metagenes can be identified relatively simply by chromosomal mapping. Detecting a latent or inactive metagene requires highly specialized and expensive equipment, and is labor and time-intensive. This process only confirms the potential for a metagene crisis; there is no known means of controlling what the outcome of that crisis will be.

Not everyone with superhuman qualities is a mutant, or a product of Celestial engineering. There are other forces that can cause this sort of forced evolution; genetic splicing, CRISPr editing, or cellular reconstruction are just a few of the many ways that people evolve past their biological limitations.

Evolutionary Categories

Certain metahumans are designated as unique sub-species.

  • Homo Superior refers to mutants with chromosomal X-genes.
  • Mutates are humans who have been subject to experimental (often unethical) gene splicing or modifications (sometimes known as Gen-Actives).
  • Homo Magi refers to descendants of Atlantis who have natural affinities for magic.
  • Homo Immortalis refers to the denizens of Titan and New Genesis; early hominids subjected to rapidly accelerated evolution and directly coded with Celestial DNA.
  • Inhumans were exposed to Terrigen Mists to trigger a meta-genetic crisis. Modern Inhumans have a shared genetic legacy with the ancient tribe of Atillans who were created by Vandal Savage tampering with their genetic codes.