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Melange, also known as "the spice", is a fictional drug in Frank Herbert's famous Dune series, which has many benefits (and some drawbacks). In this series of questions, I'll try to see how many of its properties a single, consistent substance could plausibly have at once.

These effects are:

  • Increased lifespan
  • Expanded sensory awareness
  • Prescience (we'll leave that one aside for now)
  • Eyes being stained blue
  • Addiction
  • Mutation

Other things of note include that withdrawal from consuming melange is fatal and its production. Kind of a Dune spoiler:

When the excreted waste of young sandworms mixes with water, it forms something called a pre-spice mass. Pressure causes the pre-spice mass to rise to the surface, where exposure to the sun and air turns it into melange.


So, the first of these questions will deal with the source of melange. How exactly would the chemistry of the above process work? If it would work at all, that is. Are there any real-life examples of things which happen similarly?

If it ends up being implausible, I'll accept the closest you can get.

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    $\begingroup$ Your spoiler does not mesh with my recollection of the series, can you give a source for that? $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 12 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking about a real-life substance that has effects similar to melange, a real-life chemical process that mimics the one on Arrakis, or both? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 12 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of these don't even require an external source. When I was exercising ~3 hours per day, I had #1 and #2 covered. During a road trip I went through some serious endorphin withdrawal, aka addiction $\endgroup$ – Punintended Jul 12 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash I think it was in the Ecology of Dune appendix in the first book. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Jul 12 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander For this question at least, the latter, but it doesn't have to be, entirely, just one real-life process - it could be a combination of known processes. Anything that is generally plausible will do. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Jul 12 at 16:35
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One example of the formation of chemical compounds by terrestrial entities that results in an eruption are bacteria in a swamp. The bubbling of swamp gas to the surface is the result of the accumulation of methane and or CO2, excreted by bacteria as they digest their food.

These processes under very certain conditions can result in Limnic eruptions when the gases dissolve slowly into the water at the bottom of deep lakes -- where the pressure is high and the temperature is low.

Once the concentration reaches saturation, the small kinetic events can cause the gases to come out of solution and bubble to the surface. The results can be catastrophic.

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  • $\begingroup$ So would this work deep within sand too? $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Jul 12 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ @SealBoi, I don't think so, not without water, an anaerobic environment and something for bacteria to munch on $\endgroup$ – EDL Jul 12 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ It's not so much the biological part I was asking about (sandworms and their larvae seemingly have very alien biochemistry), but the physics of it. Could the eruptions occur in a much denser, granular medium? $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Jul 12 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @SealBoi That is easy sand eruptions and sand volcanoes are real things. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 12 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ @SealBoi, You'll improve the quality of your answers by making your question as specific as possible. I thought you were also interested in real-life examples, here on Earth. If you are trying to work out the spice cycle of Arrakis then stating that explicitly will focus respondents minds on your interests $\endgroup$ – EDL Jul 12 at 18:50
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The process to produce complex organic chemicals are endless, you will have to decide what makes it in your story. Your only real constraint is it is produced by an organism.

For examples you can use most real world drugs and spices. Penicillin is produced by a fungus, cinnamon and aspirin are tree bark, There is a whole slew of drugs made from hamster ovaries, the list is endless.

The effects are fictitious if we knew chemical that would extend lifespan we would be making them. But thats fine the effects of a drug are nearly impossible to predict based on its origin, unless it is the same effect the original organism uses it for such as antibiotics, which is not the case here.

Keep in mind "spice" might not be a single molecules but a naturally occuring compound of several different chemicals.

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    $\begingroup$ I recently read a science article, that there has been some success of "reprogramming" plants to produce the desired chemicals, as bio-factories. The research is in early stages, but they working on a single plant producing complex chemicals and medicine. $\endgroup$ – Lupus Jul 12 at 19:05
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Wild take: Humans are actually (distantly) related to the sandworms.

Melange doesn't need to be a very complex compound that just so happens to be compatible with the human organism in a way that enhances it. Because the set of sophisticated instructions for all those cool things melange allows for is actually stored in the genetic code of the one consuming the melange.

Melange is an hormone that triggers development of the neotenic humans into something more like a Guild Navigator, because much of the genetic program for that is still dormant in humans and every cell in the human body is waiting for that chemical signal that the ancestors of humans used to produce on their own.

Eye cells are waiting for melange to give them the go-ahead to start synthetizing blue pigment, neurons are waiting for melange to unblock psychic powers and the bone marrow is waiting for melange to produce stem cells and to put them in the blood to rejuvenate the body.

Humans are like caterpillars that evolved away from becomming butterflies, and melange is the fix.

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    $\begingroup$ Similar to "humans are neotenic Pak" from the Known Space universe. $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Jul 12 at 22:32

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