The Axlotl tanks or Axolotl tanks were living organisms within the Original Dune series. Axlotl technology is also mentioned, but not elaborated upon, in Frank Herbert's novels Destination: Void and the The Jesus Incident. Axlotl tanks are the means by which the Bene Tleilax reproduce a living human being from the cells of a cadaver, producing type of clone called a ghola. These tanks are also used in the creation of genetically engineered assassins known as Face Dancers. Later in the series, the axlotl tanks are engineered to replicate the spice Melange, previously only available on the desert planet Arrakis where it is created naturally as part of the life cycle of giant Sandworms.
The Bene Gesserit suspected that the axlotl tanks were what remained of female Tleilaxu, since no Tleilaxu females had ever been seen. Moreover, the Reverend Mother Darwi Odrade, during the time of the Honored Matres, had declared to Tleilaxu Master Tylwyth Waff that neither she nor any of her sisters would become an axlotl tank. This remark elicited shock from the Master, a reaction that indicated that the Bene Gesserit suspicion was true, especially since he did not deny it.
Genetic information could be coded into those bred in axlotl tanks. As a result, the resulting organisms could be bred for certain aptitudes, skills, and reflexes.
Despite the revulsion axlotl tanks caused in many groups and cultures, by the time the Honored Matres had conquered the planets of the Old Imperium, the Bene Gesserit had adopted them for the creation of gholas to further their cause.
The original series
The tanks are briefly mentioned in Dune Messiah (1969) as the source of the Duncan Idaho ghola. It should be noted that both mentions of the tanks are spelled "axolotl" in Dune Messiah, but Herbert spells the term "axlotl" in all later novels in the series. The non-canon (but approved by Herbert) Dune Encyclopedia, compiled and published in 1984 between God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune, also uses the spelling "axolotl". Their nature is a well-guarded Tleilaxu secret. During his 3500-year reign which ends in God Emperor of Dune (1981), Leto II purchases countless Idaho gholas produced for him in the tanks.
Within the 1500 years between the events of God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune (1984), the Tleilaxu discover an artificial method of producing the spice melange in their axlotl tanks as well. Some melange users, like the Bene Gesserit, prefer the natural melange of Arrakis to the Tleilaxu substitute, claiming superior potency.
In Heretics of Dune, the Bene Gesserit Lady Janet notes to her son Miles Teg that "No one outside of [the Tleilaxu] planets has ever reported seeing a Tleilaxu female." Wondering whether the Tleilaxu breed or simply rely on the tanks to reproduce, Miles asks, "Do they exist or is it just the tanks?" Janet confirms that females do indeed exist. Later in Heretics, Teg's own daughter, Reverend Mother Darwi Odrade, theorizes that the axlotl tanks may be, in fact, "surrogate mothers" — Tleilaxu females somehow transformed. Soon, the current Duncan ghola recalls his repeated "births" from the tanks: "The axlotl tanks! He remembered emerging time after time: bright lights and padded mechanical hands. The hands rotated him and, in the unfocused blurs of the newborn, he saw a great mound of female flesh — monstrous in her almost immobile grossness ... a maze of dark tubes linked her body to giant metal containers".
Prelude to Dune
In the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999–2001) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (the plot which occurs before the events of 1965's Dune), the Tleilaxu attempt to create artificial melange called amal using axlotl technology; the best results are gained by using a Bene Gesserit sister to create an axlotl tank. However, the project ultimately fails.
Behind the Scenes
The name refers to a variety of salamander, and is from the Nahuatl words "atl" meaning water, and "xolotl" meaning an animal or monster, therefore meaning "water monster". Axolotls have the capability to regenerate most of their body parts.