First appearing in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #142, Donovan was the eccentric scientist and former head and co-founder of the Cadmus Project. Believing that there should be no limits in experimenting with the human gene, Donovan has given birth to countless genetic experiments. Donovan’s first experiments, the Hairies, were a group of mentally enhanced hippies who developed a unique habitat that blended super-science with lush greenery. Among Donovan’s most notable creations is the DNAliens, which are genetically-altered beings that look alien in appearance and have extreme paranormal abilities, like Dubbilex.
Another of Donovan's experiments was the creation of the miniature planet Transilvane which he filled with microscopic creatures duplicating classic monsters based on Donovan’s favorite horror films. The inhabitants of Transilvane were led by Count Dragorin.
One of Donovan’s gifts was in cloning. Donovan used his cloning expertise in aiding Intergang, creating young bodies for the 1940s gangsters who founded the organisation.
He once helped the ailing Lex Luthor clone himself a new body, in the guise of Lex Luthor II, when he was dying of a kryptonite-induced cancer. Lex Luthor tried to kill Donovan to protect his secret, but Donovan of course used his talents to create multiple clones of himself. However, Donovan would later get his revenge by helping Luthor's ex-wife Contessa Del Portenza and sending a Bizarro after Luthor. Donovan caused trouble with a clone plague that would cause clones to deteriorate and die. Luthor, still within his cloned body, sent his forces to battle Cadmus for the cure. Donovan eventually had to kill Cadmus’ director Paul Westfield in order to keep his agenda hidden. However, the cure was eventually found through the DNA of Guardian and given to those who needed it, beginning with Superboy.
When the original directors left the Project, and Mickey Cannon was put in charge, Donovan was reinstated as an imprisoned "advisor". Despite the security safeguards in place he did succeed in causing trouble, including briefly taking control of the place during the Evil Factory storyline.
Donovan’s current status is unknown as he has continued to defy death with his clones. Donovan Prime always finds a way to escape death, but his genetic monsters continue to plague Metropolis and Cadmus, who has made it their mission to protect people against these monsters.
An alternate Donovan appears in the Elseworlds story The Superman Monster, a Frankenstein pastiche. In this story he is, ironically, part of the University board that decries Viktor Luthor's experiments as blasphemous and unholy. (The other members of the board are Cadmus Director Westfield and Professor Hamilton.)
Another alternate Donovan appears in the Amalgam Comic one-shot Spider-Boy. Unlike most characters in the Amalgam books, he was not merged with a similar character from Marvel Comics. He is a staffer at the Project, a version of Cadmus located inside Fantastic Mountain (which merges Challenger Mountain from Challengers of the Unknown with the various headquarters used by the Fantastic Four. Donovan at the time had been feeding Project head Reed Richards a form of "evil DNA" in an attempt to take what he felt was his rightful place. The plot was discovered and Richards was cured before the second round of Amalgam Comics were released, allowing him to lead the Challengers of the Fantastic against Galactiac.