In theory, could any organism using protein folding or another biological process “assemble” the diamond allotrope of carbon, if it were at the correct pressure to do so? In other words, could some organism (or colonial organisms?) exist which has grown diamonds analogous to how an oyster grows pearls?

In essence this question comes down to having the right binding energies and sites to make molecular assembly work. And it does not necessarily mean doing this one atom at a time. Even some method of attaching a hydrocarbon or CO2, then stripping away the "impurity" might work?

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    $\begingroup$ Diamond biomineralization? $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Nov 7 '19 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ Essentially. Assuming the correct bonds exist for some protein to grab a piece or atom of carbon and "place it" into the lattice. This requires the correct binding sites and binding energies, and may not neccessarily mean "atom-by-atom" assembly, maybe bicarbon or some hydrocarbon can be deposited then the H stripped away. $\endgroup$ – Vogon Poet Nov 7 '19 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ That would mean the organism would need to exist under that pressure. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Nov 7 '19 at 1:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Halfthawed That's not necessarily true. An appropriate catalyst could alter the pressure conditions required to form the mineral... I just don't know if such a catalyst can exist. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Nov 7 '19 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII Yes, the OP specifies that the organism is at 'the correct pressure'. Theoretically, catalysts can overcome a lot of reactions - but I'm not sure they can exist under the pressure needed for diamonds. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Nov 7 '19 at 2:12

In theory, diamond growing is possible

Diamonds are famously hard, but when you get down to the molecular level, it's nothing particularly impressive - just a carbon with four carbon bonds. The standout is that a diamond consistently has these kinds of bonds across the entirety of the diamond. Now, a carbon-carbon bond is very easy to do - the body uses enzymes to do it all the time. All you would have to do it keep building a lattice of these carbons over and over - it's something the body can do. There's no reason an extremophile can't make one.

That said, it's a waste of energy and resources. To make this, you'll need to take a carbon bonded to something which isn't a carbon, and turn that into a C-C bond, which isn't easy to do (read: endergonic reaction) and it's very not easy if it's, say a C-H bond. Something like a C-O bond, or even better, a C-X bond, X being a halide of some kind. And it's a complex process. To make artificial diamonds, they take carbon, and they subject it to vasts amount of heat and pressure - to the point where it was the biggest explosion on Mythbuster's history. That's the kind of energy we're talking about - it's not something to toss around idly.

(P.S. - That clip is a bunch of Mythbuster explosions, followed by the mother of all Mythbuster explosions. You want to watch it.)

  • $\begingroup$ In a Wittig reaction ylides add to aldehydes and ketones to form C-C double bonds. The resulting alkenes can be “decorated” all kinds of ways. This is exothermic, and possibly assembling quaternary alkenes could indirectly assemble a diamond cell. This is making sense... $\endgroup$ – Vogon Poet Nov 7 '19 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, so a dragon with diamond scales as armor is actually not impossible?! $\endgroup$ – Vogon Poet Nov 7 '19 at 13:39

I don't see why an enzyme couldn't produce any allotrope of carbon you can think of. It might take a lot of energy but ultimately it's just playing with carbon bonds and if there is one thing biology is good at it is manipulating carbon.

And there is no reason to think that high pressure would be necessary. Enzymes catalyze many reactions that only happen spontaneously under extreme conditions.


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