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In my book series (link here), there is a character named Rhys. Rhys is a highly mutated wasp whose mutation gave him the following benefits:

  • His armor is immune to most of the medieval-style weapons being used at the time, with only an arquebus being strong enough to dent it

  • His venom is radically different than that of most wasps. In most wasps in this series, the sting is just excruciatingly painful. Rhys's sting, in addition to being excruciatingly painful, causes the victim's body to literally turn to stone on the inside and the victim is unconscious for a day or two. When they wake up, their body returns to its normal state, but the victim will spend an hour or so trapped in flashbacks of their worst memories.

Anyway, how could these be explained without magic? What genes would have to mutate to cause this? What biochemical reactions would take place in the victim's body? Is this even possible to explain without magic?

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  • $\begingroup$ Not a duplicate, but the chemistry in these answers is highly related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/122625/… $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 12 '18 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Hallucinogenics would work for the flashbacks and possibly for the frozen-ness, but I'm lost as to how to turn someone to stone, let alone have them survive it $\endgroup$ – John Locke Sep 12 '18 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ If the inside of the body of the victim is "literally turned to stone for a day or two" there is no possible way to wake up alive (at least not without magic). So I don´t think anything "science-based" could work here. $\endgroup$ – Carlos Zamora Sep 12 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ We advise to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer. Unsolved questions attract more attention and improve your chances of getting good answers. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 12 '18 at 15:43
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Turning to stone and going back is not possible, as it requires changing the atoms making up the body of the victim.

A similar result can be however be achieved if the injected toxin create a state similar to rigor mortis: all the muscles (well, only the voluntary muscles in this case) becomes rigid, so that the victim is alive but paralyzed like it was stone.

After death, respiration in an organism ceases, depleting the source of oxygen used in the making of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is required to cause separation of the actin-myosin cross-bridges during relaxation of muscle. When oxygen is no longer present, the body may continue to produce ATP via anaerobic glycolysis. When the body's glycogen is depleted, the ATP concentration diminishes, and the body enters rigor mortis because it is unable to break those bridges.

Additionally, calcium enters the cytosol after death. Calcium is released into the cytosol due to the deterioration of the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Also, the breakdown of the sarcolemma causes additional calcium to enter the cytosol. The calcium activates the formation of actin-myosin cross-bridging. Once calcium is introduced into the cytosol, it binds to the troponin of thin filaments, which causes the troponin-tropomyosin complex to change shape and allow the myosin heads to bind to the active sites of actin proteins. In rigor mortis myosin heads continue binding with the active sites of actin proteins via adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and the muscle is unable to relax until further enzyme activity degrades the complex.

The toxin has therefore to interfere with calcium pump and ATP production.

Its metabolites shall then have hallucinogenic effects, which, given the set (prolonged paralysis, fear and panic) are surely going to induce a bad trip.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps interfering with the motor cortex as well could induce a sleep-paralysis like state where fear and hallucinations are common. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 12 '18 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs, maybe. Not sure if that could induce rigidity. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 12 '18 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ I meant as an addition to further aid the ‘paralysis’ aspect. It wouldn’t induce rigidity at all but it may reduce the victim’s ability to fight the paralysis. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 12 '18 at 16:54
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I'd like to preface this with an acknowledgement that L. Dutch's answer is absolutely more practical. Half the reason I'm answering this is for the cringe factor.

Why not bone?

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is a very rare genetic condition in which your connective tissue regrows as bone. Completely irreversible and untreatable ("surgery often results in explosive bone growth"), it thankfully shows up in fewer than one in a million individuals, with only about 800 cases reported to date. Genetic conditions are pretty tough to induce, so let's skip ahead down the pathway.

FOP is caused by a mutation in a kinase, which activates a particular bone morphogenic protein, which binds a receptor and recruits a bunch of other proteins to the site. Include a bunch of BMPs in the venom, and your victim will eventually die a slow, painful death.

Let's work on the "eventually"

FOP only works when the connective tissue is damaged. By inducing tetanus via either Clostridium tetani or their produced toxin, tetanospasmin, the victim will begin spasming and involuntarily contracting their muscles.

When you work out at a moderate intensity, you're sore because of micro-tears in those muscles. Your body's repair mechanisms are recruited, the cells are repaired, and your muscles become just a little bit stronger. But when spasming constantly, you'll be creating a lot of muscle tears.

Now that we're getting somewhere with the damage, let's help the repair process. By polymerizing fibrin (section 2.4), we can create a scaffold for better repair. There's plenty of fibrin present in our blood, as it's used for blood clots, so add somesome factor XIII to the venom for better fibrin cross-linking!

So...how does this revert after a couple of days? I've got nothing

The issue is that you're turning multiple tissue types (tendon, ligament, cartilage, skeletal muscle) into a single tissue type (bone). To revert the process, you'd need to trigger a signal cascade for bone resorption but somehow leave the skeleton unharmed.

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A literal turning to stone (or bone), strictly following your well-worded question, without magic would not be possible.

In humans, muscular activity produces a byproduct called "lactic acid". The lactic acid is usually carried away at a rate which is in accordance with your level of physical fitness. When it isn't, after sessions of temporarily increased physical activity the lactic acid builds up and makes your muscles feel stiff.

It's not actually merely a feeling -- your muscles literally get stiff from the lactic acid! (It's very important to be very careful when stretching out stiff muscles!)

After we die most of our bodily functions cease, but our cells continue to live on, consume nutrients, and produce lactic acid. When enough lactic acid builds up our bodies enter the state of rigor mortis in which our muscles literally stiffen up throughout our entire body.

After several hours (roughly 12?) the rigor mortis subsides.

Perhaps the venom, as part of its excruciating painfulness, causes a spastic paralysis or hypertonia as well as artificially inducing a rigor mortis within the body. A combined spastic paralysis as well as a lactic acid-based rigidity would cause a mental as well as a literal physical exhaustion as the victim is recovering.

The fact that the rigidity lasts 2-3 times longer than rigor mortis is easily explained by the fact that it is a venom.

Just a suggestion. Hope it helps.

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