Storytelling Games

Werewolf Genetics Primer

Developed Neogenetics Amalgamated
internal document #MFL3595-L


  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. What is our starting hypothesis?
  4. What are RL genetics like?
  5. So what happens when Garou shift?
  6. What about Metis Garou?
  7. How do we explain "pure breed", Silver Fangs inbreeding, and problems due to wolf blood thinning out?
  8. Who?

1. What?

The Genetics of the Garou

In the August of 1994 a discussion broke out after a corporate meeting in reference to lycanthropes and genetics. The following project is the result of that discussion.

If you would like to add anything to this document please e-mail the maintainer, The original DNA document is stored at gopher://

2. Why?

Some of us had been thinking about the topic for some time. With the Human Genome Project progressing so well and the rise of biotechnology stocks showing a lasting potential, insight into the lycanthropes genetic makeup could lead to some amazing discoveries. The tremendous healing properties locked in werewolves genetic samples that once harvested have the potential for pharmaceuticals that could revolutionize modern medicine. This brought together several highly skilled scientists for our project.

We are aware that a small faction in the company will say "hey, this is magic". Some of us are simply looking for DNA point of view. But some look at it in terms of normal genetics simply because Garou walk and talk and do most things like other living things. So why shouldn't they inherit like other living things ?

3. What is our starting hypothesis?

Two Garou produce Metis 100% of the time.

One Garou and one human produce Garou 10% of the time and Kinfolk 90% of the time.

Commentary. This isn't particularly easy to explain, although it isn't impossible either. It cannot be explained if you assume a single Garou 'gene'. As will be shown, you would expect the proportion of Garou to be five in ten (the proportion of your genes you get from each parent) not one in ten.

Several of us concluded at the start or during the discussion that it was impossible to rationalize Garou genetics, and that it was all down to spirits. Straffon pointed out that most of our records come from interrogating Garou, and I don't think that many of them understand genetics.

4. What are RL genetics like?

The instructions that tell our bodies how to build us are stored as the chemical called DNA. A gene is the bit of DNA that "codes for a particular protein" or, without the jargon "gives an instruction on a particular subject". We all have two copies of each gene. Sometimes, these genes give different instructions, and the "dominant" version overrules the "recessive" version. For instance, one instruction that says "have brown eyes" will always overrule another saying "have blue eyes".

Some things, such as height, are affected by instructions from many different genes. The "expression" of some genes can be governed by inducer genes or subject to environmental factors. In other words, the instruction begins with "do this only if condition such-and-such is met".

If being a Garou was a matter of only one gene simply expressed, then either (a) instructions to become a Garou are dominant, the Garou probably has one instruction to be human and one to be Garou, and 50% of her children will become Garou, or (b) the instructions to become a human are dominant, the Garou must have two copies of the instruction to be a Garou, passes one to each child, none of whom become Garou.

As you have probably guessed, when we have children each parent passes one instruction out of each pair to its child.

Therefore, more than one gene must be responsible for Garou instructions. The combination of having more than one dominant gene or two recessive genes in sequences that must be perfect could easily explain the percentages of Garou to non Garou. That was one of the more simple problems to explain.

Physically, the DNA is stored in microscopic objects called chromosomes. To make matters worse, humans and wolves have different numbers of chromosomes. (Read: the instructions for the two species are written in the same characters, in related languages, but are stored using totally incompatible filing systems).

5. So what happens when Garou shift ?

Look at you. You asking how we change forms. If I answer you, you answer me one. We don't change our bodies, we change our minds. We remember our pasts, our heritage, our nature. Our souls feel the despoiler's power and mother Earth's pain and we fight back. Our bodies just echo our spirit. Now you answer. How can man change so fast, destroy so much.
-William "Wyrm Wrecker" Brecht
DNA internal document #MFL3987-A

Conventional genetics takes place on the developmental time scale -- influencing things as they grow, not once they have been made.

Shape-changing on anything like the time scale Garou do it is not conceivable to normal biology. However, a change in gene expression can slowly result in a change in the whole organism, and we know that Garou metabolism can be extraordinarily fast because of how rapidly they heal normal wounds. So it appears that there is a common function explaining two concepts.

Dr. Tinsley suggested that the growth of the during the shifting phase could be much like what happens to animals like certain lizards, puffer fish, and small furry animals. That is an interesting notion until you look at the facts. Not only the size of the subject increases, but the mass is increased as well. Although, given that shifting violates the principle of conservation of mass, we feel the subject of mass is for a physics lab, not a genetics lab.

The question we look to is "where are the genetic instructions for the wolf when you are in human form, and vice versa ?" This is important to know so that we can isolate the positive effects of the DNA without side effects that could be difficult to explain to the FDA. We would also need to know this because any proteins we develop from this research might prove to trigger the Garou genome in humans with recessive genes. This could lead to some negative publicity and an increase in the Garou population.

There are various theories.

RL genetics shows us that much of the DNA in our cellular filing systems has no apparent use. It was suggested that in Garou and Kinfolk this DNA might contain the "other" genome, possibly encrypted. One problem with this theory is that it would be quite easy to lose the "other" instructions when a Garou or Kinfolk mates with a normal human. Under this theory, when a Garou shifts between forms, the genetic instructions, and their filing systems, are re-scrambled so that the "right" set of instructions are used as instructions and the other set are put away until the Garou shifts back. Using the analogy of instructions stored on paper in filing cabinets, some pieces of paper include coded instructions. During shifting these are replaced by their decoded counterparts, whilst many 'normal' instructions become coded and invisible.

In the jargon, "exons" are expressed, "introns" are not.

One consequence of this is that only your Homid ancestors affect your Homid appearance, and vice versa.

Some "scholars" wrongly believe a second theory, that the Garou pass onto their children two sets of instructions instead of one - one from each from, wolf and Homid. This results in the "other" form lying dormant. In this theory, Kinfolk have part of the extra set of instructions, but not a whole copy. Using the same analogy, a Garou has twice has many filing cabinets as humans, just that some of them are locked depending on your form. This is also suggest that only your Homid ancestors affect your Homid appearance, etcetera. The fallacy is that scientists can, and frequently do, count the number of filing cabinets so this would have been noticed. As no creatures have every been proven to have two sets of DNA, and this would be an extremely useful survival tool, we can discount this theory.

A third theory is that the instructions "shift" with the Garou. Using the analogy, the writing on the paper, the paper, and the filing cabinets, would all shift with the Garou. One of the consequences of this is that all your ancestors affect each form - if your human parents have blue eyes, you are likely to have blue eyes as a wolf. Ironically, this theory, invoking magic to switch between chromosomes, holds the most water scientifically. Several of our team are currently working to find a scientific explanation to this theory without resorting to the arcane.

6. What about Metis Garou ?

At first glance, it seems very easy. And second glance, you have to delve deeper.

There are many RL genes, for instance the single gene for both sickle cell anemia and malaria resistance, where two instructions telling your body to have malaria resistance will also tell it to have the disease sickle cell anemia. Unfortunately for us, any genes that come from two Garou parents could also (although with less probability) come from kinfolk parents. Therefore the explanation must come from the process of procreation rather than the genetics.

We concluded that the relevant instructions must be in the parent cells themselves, and in whether they are expressing the Garou Phenotype ("Garouness"). The cause must either be an overdose of something Garou, or a deficit of something wolf/human, in the Garou cells.

For instance, the Garou embryo could require a "trigger" that Garou sperm and egg cells (male and female sex cells, or "gametes", or sperm and egg cells, fuse to make an embryo) lack, possibly in order to "choose" the correct "genome" (set of instructions) for the breed (Lupis or wolf) and develop normally. When Garou mate with each other, the trigger is absent, and the embryo does not develop normally.

An additional result of the overdose of a Garou factor in both parent sex cells may be that the embryo has its first shift happen at conception. The Metis has genes of both wolf and man activated all the time in its childhood until it learns to control them, resulting in the Metis child being born Crinos. (Note: Several independent sources have said that Metis can shift from birth).

One consequence of the Garou deformities that appears obvious to a biologist is that many Metis embryos will spontaneously abort because they their 'deformities' make it impossible for them to survive even in the womb. And that some other Metis will be born severely disabled, or non-viable as subjects of study.

7. How do we explain "pure breed", Silver Fangs inbreeding, and problems due to wolf blood thinning out ?

"There are many ways other than your 'genetic DNA one' in which beings can be related. Look at stinking Wyrm-ridden leeches, for example: isn't there something to do with which leech-master they've sucked which determines their Gaia-damned powers? And we Garou know that a part of our spirits are reborn from those of our ancestors.
And here's my own idea, too: Pure Breed is not just a genetics thing. In those Silver Fangs
perhaps it is, and maybe their inbreeding is a straightforward matter (although I'm inclined to doubt it). But in my own tribe, the Silent Striders, the Blood still runs Purer than most, and what tribe travels wider, and breeds with more different mates? There is that in our spirits -- which are of course those of our ancestors, also -- which is strong and is always maintained, regardless of who you mate."
- Mauls-with-Laughter
DNA internal document #MFL3595-A

Questions like this can look like a gift for the geneticists, being so easy to answer, so I prefaced them with the Garou POV to remind us that there are other explanations. Naturally, if your ancestors were pure-breed, you are more likely to be. Inbreeding (of both their halves) will have the same effects in Garou as it does in humans and wolves -- most of the royal families of Europe suffered from it, and notably the English and Russian royalties, who shared hemophilia, if that's what it was! The same will certainly affects normal kinfolk wolves too, and remember that most wolf-packs are closely related, with virtually no out-bred genes at all, so the quest for 'new blood' has to find completely new packs.

Some think that the decrease in power of the Garou race is partially due to the fact that fewer and fewer Garou have recent Lupis ancestors. Although this could be explained by some Lupis genes not shifting when the Garou shifts, but augmenting the genes that switch Garou nature off and on or that allow shifting to be triggered instead, most preferred to think of this as a psychological or spiritual thing instead.

8. Who?

This document was compiled by Ian McDonald from contributions made to the discussion by . . (Ms Anna Simpson) (Lisa Hoff) (John Walter Biles) (Dr. Ian McDonald) (Zoe) (Paul Strack) (Mr Neville Steven Percy) (Mr A Straffon)

Garou interrogation by Dr. Evert Tinsley

This is a derived work of "Werewolf: the Apocalypse", and is copyrighted to the contributors and White Wolf Publishing, Inc.

Paul Strack, John, Walter Biles, and Anna Simpson favored the magical paradigm over the scientific for explaining Garou inheritance. Daniel Utecht saved this document when its ftp server vanished.

Copyright White Wolf
     Publishing, Inc.
Copyright White Wolf Publishing, Inc.


A Genetics Primer