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One of the worlds I'm creating has a planet-wide communal sentient Biosphere (similar to Avatar). They have evolved the ability to bio-engineer whatever they need, and they have decided to send a probe into space for exploration. I've "borrowed" Larry Niven's Stage Tree concept, using Ethanol and Pinene for fuel, and the ship itself has a thick bark/shell hull.

However, that raises the issue of how the probe would send information back to the home planet. One possibility is dropping bio-packages back to the surface, using DNA encoding, but that requires the bioship to return to the planet. Is it possible to create a Plant-based radio for telemetry? It doesn't have to be radio, I'm just looking for a way to communicate over planetary distances using organic technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Organic technology" is something we have very limited knowledge of, needless to say. I don't see why it can't be as simple as biological matter transmitting and receiving radio communication. $\endgroup$ – B.fox Apr 4 '18 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ Going back physically or sending back physical packages might seem slow by our reckoning but if they are plants then it might not seem slow to them. (Of course Avatar had not only plants in its biosphere but let's say the plants are its brain and the animals are just its coli bacteria.) $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle Apr 4 '18 at 7:25
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In principle there's nothing stopping a plant from developing a natural radio.

Let's start with what a radio really is, in the most reductive form. A radio is nothing more than an antenna made of conductive material to particular dimensions, to make it resonant with electromagnetic waves of a particular frequency. By applying a changing electrical charge to it, we can cause it to emit signals of that frequency, and we can use it to receive signals of that frequency. Optionally, we might add a waveguide to concentrate or direct the signal.

The conductor is easy - any nervous system is already a network of conductors transmitting electrical signals. Forming a section of nerve-like tissue in the shape of a patch antenna (so named for simply being a rectangle of copper on a surface or similar), placed near the surface, would make a perfectly serviceable, if rudimentary antenna. With this alone the rocket could communicate by radio over short distances by thinking into the antenna. Power is an issue but not insurmountable, given your plant is intelligent and able to grow rockets.

Adding a waveguide isn't much harder. A properly shaped section of wood could easily act as a parabolic dish, and specially shaped cavities to act as resonators and waveguides is not without precedent- whales and dolphins already evolved this for their sonar. On the ground, a natural crater or dormant caldera would make for a marvellous dish - a particularly tall tree with a handful of antennae at the focal point of the dish would make for an excellent receiver.

Combining the two, you could in theory have a plant that manages to incorporate a radio. It doesn't have to be a patch and a parabolic dish, either: if your plant can engineer a rocket, it can engineer an antenna and waveguide of any kind.

In practice a lot will depend on the specific properties of the materials available to your plant. Mere wood as we know it is unlikely to be suitable for a waveguide, and the nervous system is unlikely to be up to the task of transmission. In the case of Avatar, the superconducting unobtanium rather dramatically solves the latter issue, though something more boring like a copper nervous system would probably be more than sufficient. Either way some exotic plant materials may be necessary to make this all work.

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With a planet's worth of surface area, the sentient biosphere could grow enormous eyes (the size of radio telescopes) and "watch" its' bio-ships as they fly among the other planets. It could even elevate those eyes up out of the planet's atmosphere by placing them on the top of giant trees. That would afford the biosphere a much better view.

The ships could then send information back to the planet either by shifting its skin color like a chameleon or by dancing like worker bees.

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There are many interesting phenomena in nature that, combined, could be said to contribute to a complex technological function. Take electrocytes in electric eels, sonar functions in bats and cetaceans, bees and migrating birds can read the magnetosphere, and some creatures take it a step further: "the elephant nosed fish detects its favorite food buried in the mud and muck in the pitch of night with an electric field it generates through its tail and senses it with its elongated chin."

Just to say, the building blocks are there to create a radio emitter and receiver organ, or at least something to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum. You just need to create the evolutionary path that will lead to this outcome.

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One of the things about plant bioships is the lack of some systems and functions that animals have, that can be rather impeding for sussing out the ship's systems. But, as for communication, perhaps an extremely amplified, extremely complicated soup-up of Earth plants' biolectricity. I presume you know the good old "potato electricity" trick.

So, electricity can be used as a means of communication, and is in some of Earth's bioelectric fauna. But, I believe that alien life would hold a plethora of more new, bizarre ways of communication. For now, let's just say your ship is bioelectric - basically a giant, flying space potato.

So, off the top of my head, that's the best answer I can think of (I'd say others might come up with better ones though.), unless you want to make the ship animalian, which might make things easier for you.

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