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Alternative Biochemistries WIP



A rough draft of a chart attempting to tabulate potential alternative biochemistries across three different dimensions: solvent systems, structural matrices, and genetic coding methods. YELLOW HIGHLIGHTING indicates terrestrial conditions. Will scrap soon, but I wanted the initial exposure for maximum feedback. This is also available as a Word doc if anybody wants a copy to edit, correct, or append themselves.

I rarely do "true" aliens not because I'm uninterested in them, but because I find the potential for creativity so vast and overwhelming that I blanch before the challenge--and, I feel, the responsibility--of creating beings that live up to the implied originality and creative promise of the term "alien." And yet the whole premise fascinates me, the challenge fascinates me; I want to somehow shrink the problem down to a manageable size, reduce it to something I can get a handle on, wrap my hands and brains around. I want a chart defining all the potential factors involved in living systems and life-supporting environments, neatly graphed and correlated and tabulated by statistical probability. I want a table ascribing the likely incidence of different alien biochemistries to various locations based on stellar type and age, planetary proximity to sun, and distribution of resources within the galaxy. I want to be able to posit with reasonable confidence that 65% of life in the Milky Way will be organic, and that 85% of such life will be found in the "zone of metallicity" occupying the central volume of the galactic disc; that of the remaining inorganic life, 15% will be based on silicon rather than carbon, with a mere 10% exploiting a fluorosilicone solvent system and the rest taking advantage of high-temperature sulfuric acid...

I know, this goal would probably take a lifetime to realize and may very well be impossible, but it's one I can't get out of my head. These paltry charts are a very tentative first attempt at this undertaking, a tiny drop in a vast bucket, and yet even they are so far incomplete and probably inaccurate and desperately lacking in more alternatives. That's where I need the help of my brilliant and creative dA friends. What are some other alternatives to carbon? To oxygen? To DNA? What kind of life-supporting substances would go into solution (yet remain stable) in methanol, or in hydrogen chloride? (Most of the blanks on that first chart represent solvents suggested in passing by Peter Ward in his book Life As We Do Not Know It.) My text references are limited, I've pretty much exhausted Wikipedia as a resource, Google searches have been frustratingly unproductive, and even academic databases are lacking. This is the kind of endeavor that requires not just raw data but informed opinions drawing on a knowledge base I lack--and that's where I'm hoping my imaginative and better-educated friends will come to the rescue.

And there are SO MANY factors I want to address, beyond mere physics and chemistry: potential alternatives not just to the known terrestrial kingdoms of life, but to the entire domain of cellular life, like Seilacher's original interpretation of the Ediacaran "vendobionts." Even given the assumption of pervasive cellularity, I want to explore the relative likelihood of independent (extraterrestrial) convergence on terrestrial body plans. Will selection factors inevitably lead to cephalization and bilateral symmetry in motile organisms, or is the apparent fitness of this design an illusion created by its prevalence on Earth through our shared origin in a default basal template established by Hox genes ([link])? What does this say for the possible emergence of truly divergent body plans on other worlds? Will we encounter ecosystems of Wheels ([link]) and Moebius Fish ([link])?, or will morphology as we know it prevail throughout the universe...? Educate me, brainstorm with me, help me fill in the gaps and expand this endeavor beyond my wildest dreams!

75% of Sun-type stars are older than our own and therefore likely to host planets with older (possibly more "highly evolved"?) life--that's one statistic I know for sure. I want to know MOAR.

7.15.09 UPDATE:

Revised to reflect ~labgnome's ([link]) incredibly helpful input. The genetics portion especially has been significantly revised and expanded, but there are additions to each section. There are still gaps and I'm sure inaccuracies, wholly my own, which are why this is still a Work In Progress.

I also hope to do a flowchart of potential morphologies reflecting my exchanges with Dan Bensen ([link]) and ~spinery ([link]) on alternative "topologies" and "geometries" as they might apply to alien body forms.
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Exobiologics's avatar
There are also CeNA which include cyclohexane, borozylenes, phosphonitriles, and many more.