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Thread: Could humans eat extraterrestrial creatures?

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Perhaps salt (NaCl) might also count as a food that is inorganic?
    Good point. It is generally an ingredient more than a food, while water is enjoyed on its own, but that's pretty much semantics.

  2. #32
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    In, if I remember, the "Starfarers" series of SF novels by Vonda McIntyre, pure water was considered the only "food" item that was universal.
    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting.

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    Good point. It is generally an ingredient more than a food, while water is enjoyed on its own, but that's pretty much semantics.
    My chemistry education told me that the chemistry of all carbon-containing compounds is "organic chemistry", excluding carbon itself, CO and CO2, therefore water, salt, minerals are all "inorganic" - which doesn't preclude theri being necessary for life.

    Re. the origin of stuff in our food - there is no synthetic organic chemistry (that is, starting with water, CO2 and energy) relevant to the production and processing of food. IOW, all our nutrition is based on other organisms. Even most of today's organic chemistry that has nothing to do with foods (i. e. plastics, rubbers...) starts with the remnants of living organisms: Petrol oil.

    Re. the pallatability of alien life forms: Of course, any one of them could happen to be toxic - no big deal, we know that from our own biosphere. Then they could ALL be toxic if they happened to for example use amino acids in their proteins that are toxic to terran organisms (take indospicin, for example). Another possibility is that they might not be toxic, but non-nutritious. Some of their fat or sugar chemistry might employ chemicals bounds for whose breakup we have no matching enzymes. That is known on Earth, too - cellulose is nothing but polymeric glucose, yet humans cant't digest it.

    IIRC, Buzz Aldrin and his coauthor John Barnes turned this into a plot device in "Encounter with Tiber": The ETs visiting Earth find they cannot use the products of our biosphere for food because something in the amino acid composition doesn't match. Therefore, the Tiberians abandon their plans of colonising Earth.
    Last edited by Arneb; 2012-Mar-11 at 04:41 PM. Reason: One typo, two clarifications

  4. #34
    To restate what I said in the other thread: I think it's extremely unlikely. It's not just protein chirality; why should all proteins even with the right chirality be edible? How many different proteins could be made with say, the exact same molecular formula as hemoglobin or insulin? How many isomers of common carbohydrates? I don't think the body would "recognize" these at all, and would (at best) flush them out.

  5. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by Dartz View Post
    If humans ever manage to colonize other solar systems in the distant future, and we come across inhabited worlds, could we use the native species on those worlds for food? Would the life have to be DNA-based, or would that not matter?
    Eating aliens possible? It would vary from person to person.

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus View Post
    To restate what I said in the other thread: I think it's extremely unlikely. It's not just protein chirality; why should all proteins even with the right chirality be edible? How many different proteins could be made with say, the exact same molecular formula as hemoglobin or insulin? How many isomers of common carbohydrates? I don't think the body would "recognize" these at all, and would (at best) flush them out.
    I think that's entirely possible, and to be honest, there are no data to argue against your point. However, two points. I seem to remember (and have been unable to find it in an online search) that some investigation found that certain clay minerals that could have been acting as primordial catalysers would appear to favour L-amino acids ovre D-amino acids - maybe there is a sound chemical basis to Earth's choice of chirality which is above just chance.

    Second, it is probably no accident that all the 20 amino acids of the terran genetic code are relatively simple ones and fall into a few easily identifiable classes. I don't think ETs would consist of 20 totally different aa's, so some kind of nutritional value is at least conceivable. However, the possibility of showstoppers existing in the ET biochemistry are probably endless.

    So we should probably invent a way to make our food from CO2, H2O, trace elements, and electricity, if we ever want to go to the stars. Yummy. But it should beat seeing your entire hydroponic culture fall prey to one nasty fungus...

  7. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arneb View Post
    So we should probably invent a way to make our food from CO2, H2O, trace elements, and electricity, if we ever want to go to the stars. Yummy. But it should beat seeing your entire hydroponic culture fall prey to one nasty fungus...
    You'll also need nitrogen. One of my longer term writing projects has an idea for "emergency rations" that are made out of available interstellar materials. I imagined them as being something like a jello or pudding cup, and functional but not popular for long term usage for both morale and ecological purposes.

    For colonization you ultimately want to transplant your own compatible biosphere... and for longer term space travel carry enough of it with you.

  8. #38
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    Are you talking about sustainable space colony?!

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inclusa View Post
    Are you talking about sustainable space colony?!
    If it's not sustainable, it wouldn't be a colony.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  10. #40
    In my op, the only way to get around the problem is to bring our own food--that is, our own agriculture--with us. Yes, this unfortunately entails introducing species that may, over evolutionary timescales, completely overwhelm and alter an alien planet's biosphere; I think this grim choice will eventually confront any spacefaring descendants of ours.

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus
    In my op, the only way to get around the problem is to bring our own food--that is, our own agriculture--with us. Yes, this unfortunately entails introducing species that may, over evolutionary timescales, completely overwhelm and alter an alien planet's biosphere; I think this grim choice will eventually confront any spacefaring descendants of ours.
    It is a tragedy to "destroy" another planet's biosphere, but perhaps we can live in a contained environment? Even "habitable planets" may not be absolutely
    human-friendly.

  12. #42
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    The closer to "human-friendly" an alien planet's biosphere, the more likely that there will be things there that can kill us: not so much predators, but parasites, environmental toxins, prions, diseases....
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  13. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus View Post
    In my op, the only way to get around the problem is to bring our own food--that is, our own agriculture--with us. Yes, this unfortunately entails introducing species that may, over evolutionary timescales, completely overwhelm and alter an alien planet's biosphere; I think this grim choice will eventually confront any spacefaring descendants of ours.
    There are two obvious possibilities that occur to my mind:

    Don't colonize planets with preexisting biospheres. It makes more sense to just manufacture habitats in space--no gravity well to climb out of, and the other sub-optimal properties of planets.

    Stop being biological. Then the only food one needs is energy, say in the form of electricity. Got light, hot and cold, or hydrogen? Good to go. They could live in hard vacuum, if they so desire. Or even less hospitable environments.

  14. #44
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    I recall a far future sci-fi story where more than 30 or 40 light years from Earth and you ran out of sources of cholesterol, edible sodium chloride (and caffiene!) as other races built on different schemes dominanted.

  15. #45
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    Allergies come to mind.

    Metabolic clogging of important pathways.

    Odd sugars that cleave into toxic substances. (A common garden plant has sugars that are specifically taken up by the heart muscles of mammals. Then once the part the cell wants is cleaved off, the left over is a molecule of hydrogen cyanide. (Nice trick, huh?)

    Even humans showing up on Earth from somewhere else would have to learn what they could eat and what they couldn't.

  16. #46
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    Well, yeah, except for fruit, no plant part wants to be eaten, and in the case of capsicum peppers, not everything that wants to be eaten wants to be eaten by mammals.
    Of course, being humans, we cheat. We took a plant that can very toxic and found a way to process it into a staple.
    Assuming very large similarities between them and us, we just might find a way to make some of the alien plants and animals, assuming they have such categorizations, edible.

  17. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    Well, yeah, except for fruit, no plant part wants to be eaten, and in the case of capsicum peppers, not everything that wants to be eaten wants to be eaten by mammals.
    Of course, being humans, we cheat. We took a plant that can very toxic and found a way to process it into a staple.
    Assuming very large similarities between them and us, we just might find a way to make some of the alien plants and animals, assuming they have such categorizations, edible.
    If we are talking about travelling out to other biosystems, rather than importing from other biosystems, it would seem easier and more productive to modify the human rather than modifying the food or biosystem.

  18. #48
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    I'm not sure how cooking would be harder than genetically engineering humans to a specialized roll.

  19. #49
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    SkepticJ is really into developing the non-biological version of human.

  20. #50
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    It skeeves me out a little their* enthusiasm. I personally don't think for the foreseeable future it would be any improvement.
    *as a gender neutral pronoun.

  21. #51
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    I'm not sure how cooking would be harder than genetically engineering humans to a specialized roll.
    Hmmm, contaminate a pristine alien biological environment with a lot of foriegn biomass (not just the plants and animals we will eat, but all the microorganisms and nutrients they need to support their health and growth and tolerate the alien environment) or modify the humans to be able to eat and interact without detriment within the native habitat...I'll stand by my assessment.

  22. #52
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    Leech out the poison by soaking and replacing the water several times, boil until it breaks down into a non-toxic form, leave to rot in the frozen permafrost until it's, technically, edible, humans have a long experience with making the toxic edible.

  23. #53
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    Leech out the poison by soaking and replacing the water several times, boil until it breaks down into a non-toxic form, leave to rot in the frozen permafrost until it's, technically, edible, humans have a long experience with making the toxic edible through the art and science of cookery.

  24. #54
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    It skeeves me out a little their* enthusiasm. I personally don't think for the foreseeable future it would be any improvement.
    *as a gender neutral pronoun.
    Are we going to encounter extraterrestrial ecosystems in the foreseeable future?

    Unless Europa has native life, or some chemosynthetic bacteria are munching on rocks, or whatever, in the crust of Mars, or some other locale within our Oort cloud, then it could be centuries, even thousands of years, before we encounter alien life in person. I can't reasonably conceive that humans would have interstellar travel capability without also having advanced robotic technology; it's more inconceivable to me than that humans would make it to Mars on vacuum tube computers.

    I'll belabor this no further in this thread.

  25. #55
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    I suspect that, because of chirality, at least half of all alien biochemistry will be indigestible to us; in fact I would expect the majority of biospheres will be largely inedible, no matter how much you cook the organisms concerned. Most compounds that don't kill us would be only useful as roughage, (unless some sort of genetic engineering is employed). Radical engineering might allow us to digest alien compounds directly, or engineered gut flora might do the job. Probably it would be a bit of both. By the time we encounter any alien proteins we will probably have relatively advanced biotechnology that would make this possible, or we may have passed entirely beyond the biological phase.

  26. #56
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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    I suspect that, because of chirality, at least half of all alien biochemistry will be indigestible to us; in fact I would expect the majority of biospheres will be largely inedible, no matter how much you cook the organisms concerned. Most compounds that don't kill us would be only useful as roughage, (unless some sort of genetic engineering is employed). Radical engineering might allow us to digest alien compounds directly, or engineered gut flora might do the job. Probably it would be a bit of both. By the time we encounter any alien proteins we will probably have relatively advanced biotechnology that would make this possible, or we may have passed entirely beyond the biological phase.
    GE gut flora is probably going to make an appearance long before we encounter alien biotic environments, with a push, such could be available within the century, and would vastly alter and increase our food supply options and issues.

  27. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkepticJ
    Are we going to encounter extraterrestrial ecosystems in the foreseeable future?

    Unless Europa has native life, or some chemosynthetic bacteria are munching on rocks, or whatever, in the crust of Mars, or some other locale within our Oort cloud, then it could be centuries, even thousands of years, before we encounter alien life in person. I can't reasonably conceive that humans would have interstellar travel capability without also having advanced robotic technology; it's more inconceivable to me than that humans would make it to Mars on vacuum tube computers.

    I'll belabor this no further in this thread.
    Thank you for this realistic comment!

  28. #58
    There are some creatures and plants on this planet you wouldn't want to eat. Some are poisonous. And it may turn out that some sweet looking fruit hanging from an alien tree might want to eat you back! Ouch!

  29. #59
    Quote Originally Posted by lone77star View Post
    There are some creatures and plants on this planet you wouldn't want to eat. Some are poisonous.
    You mean there are poisonous things on the earth?
    As above, so below

  30. #60
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    Quote Originally Posted by lone77star View Post
    There are some creatures and plants on this planet you wouldn't want to eat. Some are poisonous. And it may turn out that some sweet looking fruit hanging from an alien tree might want to eat you back! Ouch!
    Then they aren't fruit, as fruit wants to be eaten.
    Of course, alien fruit will have strategies to be eaten by the right thing, like capsicum in hot peppers, but want to be eaten all the same.
    Also they are much, much more efficient at turning sunlight into chemical energy, I doubt anything we would call a plant would be that kind of a threat.

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