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I have a rather odd setting where one of my characters gets cursed/blessed with indestructibility, more specifically all of her cells have stopped degenerating and dividing and they all are now immune to any known forms of damage. (but this only applies to living cells and bone tissues, so nails and hair are still destructible). Also the person is still very capable of feeling pain.

What effects would such a curse/blessing would have on the human body?

To give you a few points that I am interested in:

  • would she be in constant pain?

  • would she go mad?

  • would learning new things be impeded?

Bonus points for any side effects described not mentioned above.

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    $\begingroup$ How can she feel pain if she isn't damaged? $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jul 24 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ Are these cells also immortal or , as some answers point out, can they die? $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jul 24 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ You can still "kill" them with fire, enough heat will denature the extracellular matrix proteins holding their cells to each other, they will literally slowly collapse into a pile of healthy yet unconnected cell, which is probably the most disturbing death I can imagine. The individual thinking creature is completely dead even if all their cells are still around, humans are more than just cells they are cells in a specific pattern. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 25 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ If apoptosis (programmed cell death) is no longer possible, she will be highly susceptible to cancer. If cancer can't kill her, it can at least cause pain and impair organ function. $\endgroup$ – LarsH Jul 25 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @LarsH if cells are no longer dividing, she'd also be immune to cancer. $\endgroup$ – Delioth Jul 25 at 14:07
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Theres several things that will happen.

  • your character will stop eating and drinking. Since the cells dont degenerate they cannot be malnourished, which is a form of damage to your body. So some kind of nebulous energy has to come from somewhere to power the cells.

  • because of the previous point any toilet behaviour will be directly correlated to how much you are active. More active means more waste products created that the body needs to get rid off.

  • your character will stop feeling pain except for heat, cold and pressure. "Normal" pain is based on cells getting damaged and products of that cell reaching a nerve ending that reacts to these products, warning that you have damaged cells in the area. The sensations of heat, cold and pressure are warning signals that already hurt before you receive damage in order for the person to react and prevent damage to his/her body.

  • simultaneously with the previous point the character will never heat up or cool down, as that prevents the body from optimal performance by disrupting and destroying certain enzymes and other bodily products and reactions. Its the heat/cold difference that your body will warn for. So her body will remain at perfect temperature at all times, even when wearing a ski jacket in summer or birthday suit in winter.

  • the character will no longer age (duh). The cells cannot deteriorate because of genetic defects accumulating in the cells.

  • the character will no longer be sick ever again. Viruses and bacteria simply cannot create the damage necessary to make you sick, and without the necessary cell divisions your body will no longer be able to create an immune reaction anyway.

And one last thing. Dont throw her into a star or black hole, she'd never be able to get out or move her body ever again while in so much pain her body wouldnt know what to do with it. Thats just cruel.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's nothing that would prevent the body from heating up or cooling down, it just wouldn't damage the cells. Enzymes could still denature, as those are nonliving proteins. Also, there are many kinds of pain that don't require mechanical destruction of cells, so pain is still very much on the table for this person. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Jul 24 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang If the enzymes are allowed to denature without damaging the cells, then so can the mytochondria be destroyed without damaging the cells. No need for the processes they provide if it can be done with the curse/blessing right? Cell walls? Just keep them together with the magic! If you allow enzymes to denature through heat or cold it would mean you would allow most of the cell to be completely gone and replaced by magic as well. As for pain receptors, the only one's I missed were chemical one's. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jul 24 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan ... animal cells don't have cell walls. Not that it changes anything - we're still talking about pure magic. Any meaningful "indestructibility" of cells I can think of mean you're dead. The same mechanisms that cells need to transfer materials in and out of the cells are what's exploited by viruses and most bacterial toxins in the first place. What happens to an "indestructible" cell when it can't get its sugar from the blood? $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 25 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Luaan Meant to say Cell Membrane. As for Viruses and Bacteria, they wouldn't be able to cause harm to the cell even if they did get in. So the cells would still be able to get nutrients. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jul 25 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan Even if you could somehow prevent the viruses or bacteria from doing damage, they would start accumulating in the cells. Bacteria would feed on the nutrients coming into the cells (the same way our sybmiotic relationship with mitochondria probably started), and viruses would just clutter everything up. Even with no damage being done, your metabolism would slowly grind to a halt, and if your magical invulnerability kept on, all of your cells would be incapable of actually doing anything. Maybe your brain might be isolated for a while, but what does a brain do without oxygen? $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 26 at 6:00
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The first immediately obvious consequence is that the person will be skinless in no more than a few days.... The outer layer of the skin is made of dead cells which are shed continuously and replaced by new cells from the basal layer. Once the cornified outer layer is gone (no more than a few days) the inner soft layer will be exposed to the elements and will be damaged in a very short time.

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    $\begingroup$ They would look like they got sunburned, but they won't take any damage... even while in the sun... $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jul 24 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyB: The question says that the cells are immune to damage. I am saying that the basal epidermal layer is soft and moist and will tear apart. The cells may survive all right, but the non-living collagen matrix will not. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 24 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyB: The epidermis is made up of a lower layer of living cells (the basal layer) and an upper layer of cornified dead cells. The outer layer is continuously interacting with the environment and is lost due to abrasions etc. The lower layer replenishes it by dividing and pushing new cells outwars. The lower layer is not intended to be exposed to mechanical and environmental stress. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 24 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Also they will loose cells, the cells will be healthy but detached from the body as the extracellular matrix is unsufficnt to hold them together against abrasion, so they will slowly wear away, starting with their feet. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 25 at 2:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk thanks to burn victims we know the answer is yes, exposure of dermal cells leads to hypersensitivity. It will also be extremely itchy. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 25 at 14:55
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all of her cells have stopped degenerating and dividing and they all are now immune to any known forms of damage.

Our immune system is based on rapid multiplication of the lymphocytes as reaction to an infection. Since you are removing the capability to have cell division, you are negating the possibility to have immune reaction. But the cells won't sustain any damage: thus your character will experience an overlapping of the symptoms of all the diseases/infection he/she will catch over time, with no hope of healing. Just picking the overlap of 4 not so uncommon infections:

  1. running nose from a cold
  2. diarrhea from a food poisoning
  3. muscular relaxation induced by botulism
  4. muscular spams from tetanic infection.

I am confident it would be a hell of a life.

Neurons do not multiplicate in any case, they just rearrange correction. So this power won't affect the learning capability, as long as some other disease won't interfere with learning.

Nails and hair grow because some cells are dividing. With division gone, they would stop growing, too.

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    $\begingroup$ All of those symptoms are a result of cellular damage and disfunction caused by toxins or viral infection. Indestructible cells seem unlikely to suffer from any of those at all. What you might have to worry about are parasites or fungal infections that can impair without explicitly causing or needing to cause cellular damage. Have a think about what an eternity with filiariasis would be like. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jul 24 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ The "are now immune to any known forms of damage." completely precludes viral infection. Bacterial infection would be hard to gauge. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 24 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch The virus has to punch a hole through the protein sheath to infect the cell in the first place, if the cells are immune to any damage at all that won't be possible. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 24 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyB, Clostridium tetani is a common soil bacterium. Ingesting anything contaminated by soil can lead to infection. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 24 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ It would seem that only bacterial infection would be problematic, viral infections need to modify the inner workings of a cell to multiply and parasites need a lot of food to sustain themselves + you can always drink something like cyannide to clean your gut of any life and then repopulate it with good bacteria (infections in other places seem unlikely or just unsusteinable) $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jul 24 at 12:13
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Depending how we interpret the "known" in "immune to any known forms of damage" we get a very different picture:

  • if we assume that the "known" means damage that has previously been experienced by their body then the first bacterial infection they get that they hadn't experienced before will kill them. Their body can no longer adapt to novel toxins and their immune system cannot create new antibodies to kill off the new invader.

  • if we assume that "known" means everything the person doing the cursing knows is possible then it becomes a story element that you can have endless fun with.

Regardless of the interpretation the character won't be able to breed, no more meiosis. Their teeth will eventually wear out regardless of how well they try to care for them as enamel is never renewed, that will get extremely painful. Existing injuries will never heal, at all, if they're bleeding even in the slightest went the curse is placed they will bleed out and die, period. Any corrective surgery, like having those broken teeth out, will either be impossible or lethal.

No-one knows how much storage a human brain can handle but eventually they're going to start suffering some form of dementia, not sure what that would look like though.

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  • $\begingroup$ I did not think about the breeding part and it makes a lot of sense now, as for the teeth, you could just coat them in something and never be bothered again (the fleshy bits are immune to damage) $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jul 24 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyB Yeah you could probably coat them in some way to keep the air out, you wouldn't damage the flesh but the nerve irritation isn't caused by damage so if you didn't find a coating that worked you'd have episodes of extreme pain at intervals when the coasting wears through. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 24 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ Fingernails eventually wear away and all the blood leaks out $\endgroup$ – Thorne Jul 25 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ eventually start suffering some form of dementia - if their cells become resistant to any changes, then that's going to happen pretty quickly - wouldn't be able to form new memories, though old ones would remain intact. $\endgroup$ – Baldrickk Jul 25 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Baldrickk It's thought that memory is stored as connections between neurons; those might still be able to form and break even if the cells are "indestructible" - unless you outright fix the cells to make them unable to change in any way, which would be indistinguishable from death anyway (apart from the curious fact that the body wouldn't seem to decay even after decades). $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 26 at 6:15
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Blood related problems:

blood is full of oxygen and sugar - so it make good growing ground for many invaders (fungi, yeast, ...)

As there is only so much blood cells (and new would never grow), there inevitably became moment, when they would not be able eat and process all invaders. And those invaders would grow, so at some time there will be so much, that some veins would stuck with them. No problem per se, as none cells would die, but some cells would be starving without supply of oxygen and sugar. And at some point they would just stop working (until refilled again), so muscles would stop moving and brain would be paralysed too. (Well until some drastical cleaning would be done, which would totally destroy everything destroyable and leave only the living body. And it would need be so drastical to decompose all those (now dead) invaders to such small pieces, that they could be trasported to organs, that could eject them out of the body.

If it would be done late, that the person would be paralysed for long time, until osmosis push a lot of oxygen and suger (should be artifically added to body) to the heart and it start pumping blood around again to distribute food for other cells too and "restart" rest of the body. Hungry cells around the way to heart would not be helping, as they would eat much supply just to be able spend it without any possible effect.

Also there should be proper eating, as the person would survive without food, but the muscle cells would not have chemicals to make movement and so undereating would paralayse that person too (and brain burns so much energy/food, that the starving would came fast if eating/drinking was improper). Drinking also need be done otherwise the blood would lose watter and stop circulating at some point (first blocking small veins, then larger and starve muscle cells as before to paralysis).

Pain may became problem too, as constant pain is suppressed and ignored after some time - the pain limit grows higher and higher - and well my leg is in pain for year, so what, it is no longer problem for me, just feature. I know, I should do something with it, maybe tomorrow, or next week or next millenium, but it is not so bad to force me do something JUST NOW. And I so dislike the taste of strong hydroxide/acid, which could solve it, so lets it wait just some time more ... I have still write some article on web and see the movie and the serial did not ended yet ...

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    $\begingroup$ You made a fair point with blood drying up... $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jul 25 at 7:01
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I am going to assume that this world has more than a little magic involved. In that case I would suggest you read the manga "UQ Holder" and checking out the character Karin.

Karin was cursed with absolute invulnerability over 2000 years before the story takes place. I thought about her when I read your question since you specifically mentioned being able to feel pain, which is normally a result of damage, which your character should now be immune to. Karin can feel pain however, because her form of immortality is one that messes with reality to litterally remove damage instantly. In once scene she is being cut with a knife, and you never see even the slightest hint of damage, but the guy who is cutting her notes that he can feel the resistance of cutting flesh, and she is clearly feeling pain as if she is being cut.

Anyways, I think her case would be good inspiration for your idea.

PS: The title, UQ Holder, is kind of a play on words in Japanese. 悠久 (yûkyû) means "eternity" so the title kinda means "Eternity Holder", and it is the name of the main goog guy organization in the story, which is made up of people who are immortal (to different degrees; you have Karin that really cannot die, and you have a guy who simply won't age but could easily be killed by decapitation)

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Based on your character description, I will make some detailed assumptions:

1)Basically the living cells have become indestructible particles like atoms (under normal circumstances). I assume this power extends to all the tissues as a whole as well. Otherwise you can cut the tissue by simply separating the adjacent cells with sufficient force.

Effect: Character will start losing sense of pain slowly and steadily. The biological process and nerve reaction will still be there, but the brain will start ignoring the signals. The pain becomes a false trigger as there was no corresponding damage. On a long term, this might lead to desensitization and lack of empathy, slowly devolving into lack of certain emotions. This includes fear of death.

2) No cell division = no new cells at all

Effect: No reproductive capabilities may lead to degeneration of certain instincts, like losing interest in reproduction and related physiological and psychological phenomenon.

3) Despite being indestructible, the cells still need energy to function without which, the cells will enter a super dormant state, and wake up again after energy is available.

Effect: Most biological functions will continue. Character will experience hunger and thirst as well as the need to sleep due to getting tired. Combined with the above effects of losing some emotions and instincts, character may develop dependency on certain things. For a positive tone, this would be highly exhausting activities in terms of both physical and mental, otherwise character wouldn't need or be able to eat and sleep properly. For a negative tone, heavy addictions to junk food and/or drugs and other substances.

4) Cells do not die or divide, but the organs still produce the various chemicals, and body still accumulates certain substances over time

Effect: The character can easily "suffer" high blood pressure if consuming too much salt and fats primarily because the fat accumulates but the skin doesn't stretch and grow, kidney stone or other such problems caused by accumulation of external substances within the body. Of course these problems can easily be cured by strong medications easily since there should be no side-effects.

5) Long Life span

Effect: After a number of years, character will start suffering memory losses, because the brain has a maximum capacity for information.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reproductive instincts evolved to facilitate reproduction, but your body doesn't know that. Just because your efforts are futile doesn't mean your instincts will disappear - they're baked in. Kidney stones are actually a very interesting idea - if the stone grows too big, it could completely block the flow of urine, eventually stopping the kidneys entirely (as neither the vessels nor kidneys can "be damaged", the pressure would increase until the filtration no longer works). Even though the cells can't be damaged, the build up of metabolic byproducts would eventually stop all metabolism. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 26 at 6:09
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Some quick observations and outcomes.

  1. No more hair. You say the hair can be damaged, but since your cells cant divide that means no more hair after it is lost the first time.

  2. No new memories after a while, because your brain will eventually become full, since there is a theoretical maxiumum capacity for your brain.

  3. No more reproduction. Obviously producing sperm and eggs as a process has stopped since they involve division.

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    $\begingroup$ You wouldn't have new memories assuming there's no garbage collector getting rid of old memories. I don't think we know enough about how memory works to assume memories are only ever added (there are certainly indications in both directions). Unless the immunity to damage also prevents normal cell functioning of course, in which case you wouldn't be able to form new memories period, right away. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 26 at 6:13
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"What are the side-effects" questions really depend on the precise nature of how something is implemented. The answer can be just about anything.

For example, given one reading of the curse, the individual would become the world's worst Flu carrier. Influenza doesn't actually damage the cell walls. It gets up close enough that the cell chooses to try to capture it, pinching off a lysome around the virus, then pumping it full of enzymes and acids. Influenza is actually "designed" to detect this, unfurling a grappling hook like protien which sticks into the edge of the lysome and then pulls the flu out. Technically this isn't the cell wall being damaged. Even if it was considered damage, you're in real trouble because the cells will get filled with unbreakable lysomes.

So as a result, the flu can infect a cell without actually damaging the cell wall much. It does its damage after being "trapped" by our cell's defenses. Now it's put its DNA in your cell, making virus proteins. Your immune system isn't going to be able to do anything about this, for the reasons mentioned in other answers. As a result, every cell of your respiratory tract is going to get infected and start producing viruses at full speed!

Of course that's just one reading on the curse. There's myrad others.

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  • $\begingroup$ Viruses cannot make new proteins without damaging the inner workings of a cell, they need to attack either the mitocondria or the nucleus or some component of the cell, viruses work by rerwiting the dna code of a cell to produce more viruses, so no that will not happen. $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jul 25 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ @TobyB Except that the cell also needs to "attack" the nucleus. To create proteins, the DNA must be deconstructed, copied, and rebuilt again. If you allow this to happen, then viruses must also still be capable of doing the same thing. If you don't allow this to happen, your subject is dead anyway. I doubt there's any way in which you could make "cells indestructible" while keeping the person working and alive without just magically handwaving all the problems. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 25 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ Animal cells don't have cell walls. But the point is moot anyway - it's not like viruses destroy anything to gain access to the cell - they just exploit the ways the cells bring materials in and out. If you disable this, you kill the person anyway. But within the constraints you used, the virus might be able to gain access to the cell, but it cannot get out - that requires the cell to essentially explode, which an indestructible membrane wouldn't allow to happen. Most viruses don't have the keys to get out the way they came in, so to speak. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 25 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyB That is why I posted this answer. The precice nature of how you go about things matters. You have to define what "damage" means, and probably define how it happens. Defending DNA from damage is actually a challenge life has being working at for hundreds of millions of years. It's not easy... in fact its information-theoretically impossible to do it perfectly. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 25 at 15:10

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