For my group of alien tetrapods, I would like to have them evolve a sort of built in protection against the elements and other organisms. While researching, I came across information on graphene, and it seems like a promising material to incorporate into living creatures. They are built with and require the same elements organisms on Earth as we know it do, but in different amounts. My first question concerning graphene instead of collagen is: Could it be biologically grown and maintained? I know it is made of carbon, and that is why I am considering it. It is alright if its biological maintenance or growth requires another element, in fact, if it does, I would be very interested.

Graphene can crack. I would like to know if muscles would provide enough structure to hold it in place. I am aware that graphene is extremely conductive, but could there be other risks. Would any of these risks prevent it from evolving?

  • $\begingroup$ Do your aliens use collagen in their bones? $\endgroup$
    – Cas
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ What is your purpose of replacing collagen with graphene? $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2018 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Cas I am planning on using a protein similar to collagen and perhaps even iron in the bones. $\endgroup$
    – Roki
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Real Subtle I would like to use graphene in the skin to strengthen it. In the world I am working on, evolutionary pressures have caused tetrapods to grow more injury resistant skin. $\endgroup$
    – Roki
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


Article that may prove useful.

After reading the aforementioned article, I'm not 100% sure how this could work biologically, but I have a couple ideas:

  1. The world on which the aliens evolved is rich in copper in many of the ways that Earth is rich in iron, and most life has evolved to use copper in their blood in the same way that terrestrial life uses iron (note that this would also give them green blood, for sci-fi bonus points). In addition, their digestive systems are somewhat hyperefficient, capable of reducing sugars to base carbon (which they don't have much biological demand for compared to the amount of intake), but the most common copper-rich chemicals they can eat require specialized organs, which they evolved at the expense of more conventional extraction methods (this is a roundabout way of saying that they can accumulate mostly pure copper and carbon).
  2. The aliens in question have an organ that works sort of like a heart, but it serves a different task. It would collect dead blood cells on a film, recycling what it can, but leaving a thin sheet of copper and a layer of carbon.
  3. When the material level reaches a certain point, the organ heats up significantly, with the copper substrate allowing the carbon to fuse together into microscopic scales of graphene-like materials. Over time, these "scales" break away and are carried by specialized cells to repair injury sites first and to key locations second, healing wounds and, over time, making a near-impenetrable suit of natural armor from resources it wasn't using anyway.

Culturally speaking, thicker shells would also likely be a sign of higher status, as having one means you have gone a long time without getting hurt, in addition to meaning that you have a steady enough supply of food to be able to make it in the first place. (This part is irrelevant to how they're physically able to do it, but this idea came up so much when I was writing this that I had to post it.)

EDIT: Okay, I seemingly missed the entire point of the question. Lemme fix that real quick.

EDIT 2: To answer the actual question, my gut tells me that no, graphene cannot replicate the effects of collagen. Collagen is a long strand that is carbon-based, but with lots of things that are not carbon (such as hydrogen and oxygen). Graphene is a sheet that is 100% carbon, with anything else being an impurity at best. Graphene collagen apparently does exist, but it is pretty difficult to manufacture even with our level of technology, so it's unlikely that a creature could naturally evolve the ability to produce it. And this is assuming that it would even work, something that I am not entirely certain of. That being said, you could always just give it the same structure as collagen (graphene can probably be assembled in pretty much any 2D shape, so strands are allowed) and then alloy it with handwavium to deal with the science problems.

  • $\begingroup$ Could it be possible to use copper but still keep hemoglobin in the blood? I really like the idea of copper supporting the graphene! $\endgroup$
    – Cas
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ It's not impossible to do both. I just had to come up with a reason why they would be taking in lots of copper and then holding onto it,. $\endgroup$
    – Ave Roma
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, Hemocyanin is blue, not green. There are animals on Earth (not only in star trek) that have this kind of blood. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2018 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ Many animals on Earth already use copper to maintain skin, bone, and other body systems. Copper already has a reason to be present in the body. $\endgroup$
    – Roki
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose you're correct. $\endgroup$
    – Ave Roma
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 4:54

Cells are naturally occurring microbots with nanobots as organelles. They use enzymes as catalysts and pay close attention to chirality. All cells are by default molecular 3D printers. Yes living cells at standard temperature and pressure most certainly can synthesize graphene graphane carbon nanotubes carbon nanothreads and so on. Cells already have atomic precision. Our technology does not have atomic precision which is why we use brute force methods of really high pressures and temperatures.

I highly doubt such a mechanism would evolve, but it most certainly could be designed.

It wouldn't work well for collagen. Graphene works well as a conductor. Nanotubes work well as reinforcement in a composite. Nanothreads being sp3 bonded can be scaled to macroscopic quantities while maintaining it's properties and be good for muscles. The muscles would still need heat ions or electrostatic mechanisms to work, but it's the nanothreads that will be deformed to make the muscle move.

Collagen is meant to be elastic. A hard somewhat elastic composite can be made, but if all your looking for is toughness then have subdermal scales overlapping and held together by something similar to collagen. The skin would still be skin, but underneath would be super tough scale.

Ultra high molecular density slider silk or an analogue to that could replace collagen and would be superior, so long as it interconnected in the right way. They can be reinforced with graphene without being entirely graohene. Kevlar threads are tough, but it's the way those threads are connected that makes them effective as armor.

Everything reacts with something. Even golf with the highest corrosion resistance can be dissolved. Once an element is at the atomic scale,it can be built. Forging steel will always be simpler then using cells or nanobots to atomically print it one atom at a time, but those cells will still be able to do it.

Hope this helps.


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