In this study, we address the hypothesis that it is possible to exploit genetic/functional variation in parental Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell populations to isolate clonal derivatives that exhibit superior, heritable attributes for biomanufacturing—new parental cell lines which are inherently more “fit for purpose.” One-hundred and ninety-nine CHOK1SV clones were isolated from a donor CHOK1SV parental population by limiting dilution cloning and microplate image analysis, followed by primary analysis of variation in cell-specific proliferation rate during extended deep-well microplate suspension culture of individual clones to accelerate genetic drift in isolated cultures. A subset of 100 clones were comparatively evaluated for transient production of a recombinant monoclonal antibody (Mab) and green fluorescent protein following transfection of a plasmid vector encoding both genes. The heritability of both cell-specific proliferation rate and Mab production was further assessed using a subset of 23 clones varying in functional capability that were subjected to cell culture regimes involving both cryopreservation and extended sub-culture. These data showed that whilst differences in transient Mab production capability were not heritable per se, clones exhibiting heritable variation in specific proliferation rate, endocytotic transfectability and N-glycan processing were identified. Finally, for clonal populations most “evolved” by extended sub-culture in vitro we investigated the relationship between cellular protein biomass content, specific proliferation rate and cell surface N-glycosylation. Rapid-specific proliferation rate was inversely correlated to CHO cell size and protein content, and positively correlated to cell surface glycan content, although substantial clone-specific variation in ability to accumulate cell biomass was evident. Taken together, our data reveal the dynamic nature of the CHO cell functional genome and the potential to evolve and isolate CHO cell variants with improved functional properties in vitro. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 260–274. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.