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Autotrophs are lifeforms that consume simpler molecules than the large protein, carbohydrate and lipid molecules that heterotrophs like humans ingest, these large molecules are made by autotrophs and other heterotrophs.

On earth chemoautotrophs are tiny bacteria, living as a whole off fairly pure chemicals that are toxic to humans like sulphur and metals, but they needn't be. Perhaps chemoautotrophs may even given different environmental and evolutionary swings on earth have ended up being multicellular and of a similar size and intelligence to humanity.

Q: What food/sustenance could humans and chemoautotrophic lifeforms share in common in non tiny amounts?

For example Salt is nicely non human-centric while still being edible and helpful for humans, you can't really eat a big lump of salt in one go or live off it, but reasonably large crystals of salt can be used as an ingredient, compensating for dehydration by having the food be very liquid like soup.

Could, perhaps with work from both sides adapting, subtleties even be bought to similarities of pallet, keeping in mind that we vary so much among earth cultures and mindsets.

It's also worth considering the difference between politely trying something that won't be too harmful and consumption that sustains a being.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Renan, Ash, L.Dutch, Aify, Mark Olson Jun 26 '18 at 19:24

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  • $\begingroup$ Your question makes it clear that anything more complex than a metal salt like NaCl (table salt) is inedible to an Autotroph so what are you even asking about? $\endgroup$ – Ash Jun 26 '18 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Humans can make use of some small molecules too, and I dare say autotrophs don't max out exactly at salt, I'm not sure that autotrophs can make use of salt, it was just an example. Maybe, as a single example, a human size multicellular autotroph could make use of the monomers of some of the macromolecules that are edible to humans. $\endgroup$ – alan2here Jun 26 '18 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify whether or not the large molecules humans ingest are in fact toxic to your multicellular & intelligent autotrophs? In any event, I think you pretty much answered your own question. If a human were to go on a date with an autotroph, I think a nice selection of salt tablets, chewable vitamins, and Maalox tablets might be an appropriate gift! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 26 '18 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ No, sorry. Also, combining your and Willk's answer … A nice salted (rare?) steak (soup?) :) Maybe theres even a nitrogen rich meat from a creature with simpler molecules. Re Willk's answer a woodlouse is high in urea, but it's hardly a nice flavour for humans. Then again thats so subjective when we compete to make great-fruit hoppy bitter sour-beer, cider that tastes like vinegar, stuff thats really pushing the limit on capsaicin and even fermented fish for humans. $\endgroup$ – alan2here Jun 26 '18 at 19:04
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Meat.

Chemotroph and autotroph refer to energy metabolism: how an organism makes ATP. Humans oxidize reduced carbon for energy. Bacteria might oxidize or reduce carbon, sulfur, iron or other molecules, hooking that reaction to ATP production. Photosynthesis uses the energy of a photon to generate ATP. One could imagine more exotic energy metabolism types.

But that is all energy metabolism. What about the stuff of the body? How do we synthesize our tissues? It just so happens that the reduced carbon humans burn for energy can also be used to make the stuff of our bodies. We need nitrogen containing molecules in our diets too.

Consider now iron-oxidizing bacteria. They get their energy from iron, but they are not made of iron or iron oxide. To build their bodies, these bacteria need to take in reduced carbon and nitrogen just like we do - except because energy is taken care of by iron they can use all the materials they take in for synthesis of body tissues.

Iron oxidizing bacteria would be happy to take in the nitrogen rich molecules from a piece of roast beef if you dropped it into the iron rich spring they lived in. So too your aliens with the exotic energy metabolism. If they are made of proteins like we are, they would delight in the range of nitrogen rich foods we have.

A bacterium is more flexible about nitrogen containing molecules than we are. They can synthesize their own proteins out of smaller nitrogen containing molecules like urea. We must get much of our protein as preassembled amino acids. An alien with requirements like a bacterium could eat all the proteins we eat and lot of other stuff besides. An alien with more stringent protein requirements (like a cat, which requires nitrogen containing molecules like taurine that even humans can synthesize) would (like a cat) probably be very pleased with animal meat.

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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

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    $\begingroup$ Combining your answer and elemtilas's comments … A nice salted (rare?) steak (soup?) :) Maybe theres even a nitrogen rich meat from a creature with simpler molecules. A woodlouse is high in urea, but it's hardly a nice flavour for humans. Then again thats so subjective when we compete to make great-fruit hoppy bitter sour-beer, cider that tastes like vinegar, stuff thats really pushing the limit on capsaicin and even fermented fish for humans. $\endgroup$ – alan2here Jun 26 '18 at 19:02

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