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The thing about organics is that they can very precisely build themselves up, from a molecular level. They can take various, otherwise useless stuff like goethite and chitin and, through the power of engineering, turn it into one of the strongest biogenic materials to date.

So, graphene is this wunder mátériel we can't produce in high enough quantities and quality to be useful. Graphene can also reinforce spider silk.

I would have to worry about fewer things if any creature, I'm working with, could be reinforced with this unobtanium. The question is if it's possible for living creatures to produce it.

Here's some research material, I looked through:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120321152554.htm
...the aforementioned graphite oxide can be synthesized using the Tang-Lau method:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25tS1lmZIRw

Unfortunately, it does involve high temperatures, which isn't good, maybe you can start by finding a relatively better alternative, or a way to reduce the required temperatures.

And yes, I mainly want to apply this to dragons, but repurposing the method for other creatures would be important too.

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    $\begingroup$ I heard you can create minute amounts of graphene by sticking tape to tape and pulling. Nano quantities, but yoi yave ot nevertheless. If you can get a fraction of a miligram from a small creature, you can harvest it by the ton like we do with some red pigments, silk, and horseshow crab amebocytes. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 13 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Renan The creatures reinforce themselves with it, and I don't desire to collect graphene from them, it's crude and inefficient. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 13 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could widen your research to other processes in the body that require high temperatures but use enzymes that lower the necessary temperature to something the body can handle? Maybe theres a close analogue to be found to a bodily Carbon process that would normally require high temperatures. I'll look later. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Mar 14 at 7:48
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Yes, but it won't resemble the way we do it.

The mechanism by which an organism will produce graphene won't resemble any of our crude chemical processes. Living things use proteins called enzymes to perform all of their chemical reactions. Enzymes are incredible molecular machines that facilitate nearly every biochemical reaction. There's no reason to think an enzymatic process couldn't produce graphene, or indeed, that there might not exist an enzyme or pathway of enzymes that make graphene already that we simply haven’t discovered. But, importantly, that enzymatic process isn’t going to resemble any of our existing methods.

An example of this would be the production of ammonia in biological and artificial processes. Most industrial ammonia today is produced by the Haber process which relies on extreme pressure and temperature to catalyze the reaction of nitrogen gas to ammonia. Meanwhile, in the soil around us, tiny bacteria produce enzymes called nitrogenases that make ammonia from the same nitrogen gas without the need for high pressure or temperature. Life is much better at organic chemistry then we are (it invented it after all). There likely could or does exist a biological alternative to the Tang Lau Method for the production of graphene that doesn’t require high temperatures at all.

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The dragons are ruminants with multi-part stomachs. They eat organic material, and in their first stomach burn the material at 800C until it become graphene oxide.

In the second stomach the graphene oxide flakes are mixed with a bacteria that digests the graphene oxide and turns it into graphene.

In the third and fourth stomach the graphene is processed, and which the dragons body uses in bone and muscle tissue growth.

This works for dragons, but it also works for other ruminants like sheep and cattle.

The sheep eat grass. In their four part stomachs the grass is first brought to 800C. Then in the second stomach it is mixed with bacteria that turn the graphene oxide into graphene. In the third and fourth stomachs the graphene is refined and processed. It is then used to grow the sheeps wool. Farmers sheer the sheep with diamond bladed sheers, and spin and weave it into ballistic armor.

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  • $\begingroup$ How do you get it (the stomach) that hot? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 13 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles It doubles as a tokamak. The graphene is just a happy side effect. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 13 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ What is the stomach made out of to be able to withstand 800 °C!? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 13 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles Make it out of graphene! Graphene has an estimated melting point of at least 4000 Kelvin, which is at least 3700 degrees Celsius. Source $\endgroup$ – John Locke Mar 13 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles It's no more paradoxical than the chicken and egg, the graphene to make the stomach can come from the ewe. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Mar 13 at 19:21
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Yes!

There are lots of substances we (as in humans with labs) cannot synthesize in large quantities, especially if handedness (chirality) is important. For those we generally rely on microorganisms, genetically modified or plain, sometimes on cell-lines from organisms, and sometimes on cells in organisms. Graphene is only hard (for us) to produce in larger sheets, small flecks of it will be generated by simply pulling a piece of graphite over a piece of paper (also called writing with a pencil). Graphene has no properties inherently bad for biochemisry, so there is nothing stopping cells from producing it.

There are an infinite amount of different possible molecules (finite but mindbogglingly large if you restrict size to finite), and a (relatively) small finite amount of molecules synthesized in cells - this is because evolution is the driving factor that advances the cellular biochemistry - alterations of already established processes can produce different molecules, but this 'new' pathway needs to: Create a molecule that works with existing cellular machinery to create an advantage, not create any disadvantages on the way (other reactions that damage the cell), not be too costly energy-wise, etc - in sum there needs to be a positive net effect of this new pathway, otherwise evolution will not promote it.

So every biochemical pathway present (up to the point of first human geneticist's intervention) was, at one time, randomly formed from an existing pathway, netted a positive effect, and was present in an organism that did not die off.

There are a lot of reactions that do not look like they could be beneficial (pathways that produce oxygen as a side-product, or ones that use oxygen, for instance, as O2 is actually quite corrosive...) but are, if all things are tallied up. Some pathways might be very hard to evolve from preexisting ones, as they drop or use toxic molecules left and right, but on the face of it no reaction is totally impossible - high reaction temperature is usually possible to be circumvented by using enzymes, extreme toxicity is circumvented by putting a membrane around, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ So when cells can't produce something, why is that? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles i added a few paragraphs. tldr: no molecule is impossible for biochem, some are just very improbable (educts or (co-) products extremely disruptive to cell). $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Mar 14 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ Look, I found this: sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180823113613.htm $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Mar 14 at 16:35
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it's future Mephisto here.

You could try to create an "organic reaction chamber" that can produce the required conditions. Think of osteoderms, you could create a sphere of deposited minerals on the inside, with lots of air pockets in them (better insulation) and heavy vascularization on the outside, to get rid of the waste heat fast. You can also get away with ~165 °C, just keep the stuff there longer.

You have to figure the valve system out on our own, and listen, you have to banish Hillary before it gains more power, I don't have much time... Oh no, they're here, may the fourth be with you!

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Hummer's Method is a safer way of producing graphite oxide at lower temperatures (>98C) although less efficient than conventional methods(Tang-Lau). Graphite oxide is an intermediary to producing graphene. If an animal/organism can go through these the various steps to produce graphene similarly outlined in the Andy's answer (through multiple stomachs etc...) then it is possible to do so. https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummers%27_method

Certain bacteria such as thermophiles can survive extreme temperatures up to 122C so it is entirely possible. If you want this to be a part of your story you can mention that the bacteria live in underwater vents and the fish around the vents absorb the bacteria in significant enough quantities to produce a meaningful amount of graphene. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermophile

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE! If you have a moment, check out the tour. +1 This is a great start to an answer, but there are a couple ways you could edit it to be better. First off, copy pertinent information from the link into your answer. That's just policy, since links change and pages are deleted and people don't always like clicking on links. Secondly, I would recommend quoting the relevant parts of Andy's answer that you are modifying, but that's just my preference. Lastly, comment restrictions shouldn't be bypassed by using answers, so you should just make this a full answer instead $\endgroup$ – Aethenosity Mar 15 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! I've edited it. $\endgroup$ – CptLasky Mar 16 at 1:35

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