Would it be possible to have an organism to be based on alcohol, rather than water? Complexity does not matter, but a complex organism would be favourable. their environment would be in oceans of isopropyl alcohol on a relatively warm planet with very thin CO2 atmosphere and less than half earth's gravity.

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    $\begingroup$ Does my university mate who used to drink weizen beer as sport drink during our football matches count? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 15, 2019 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica Maybe? $\endgroup$
    – Greenie E.
    Dec 15, 2019 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Only for a couple of weeks around xmas and new year. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Dec 15, 2019 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I was going to write in that these things were popular holiday bar snacks. $\endgroup$
    – Greenie E.
    Dec 15, 2019 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica The human stomach is not usually sufficiently resistant to the non alcohol components in Weizenbier to allow the body to reach even 0.2% EtOH content. ;) P.S. Best isotonic sports beverage ever. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Dec 15, 2019 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


Not naturally, no.

Isopropyl alcohol is a pretty good solvent for both polar and non-polar molecules, but not salts. So, it is certainly plausible to imagine a complex engineered biosystem, maybe with ionic cell membranes, that depends on it. Maybe you've got a two-phase system where cells form from bubble of isopropyl alcohol suspended in saltwater with a monolayer membrane.

But naturally-occurring pools, let alone oceans, or mostly-isopropyl-alcohol in which abiogenesis could occur spontaneously? No. Any natural abiotic processes that could produce significant quantities of isopropyl alcohol would also produce even larger quantities of a slew of other simple carbohydrates. You would end up with an enormously complex mixture of an ocean--and sure, life might form in that ocean, using a complex solvent or multiple interacting solvent phases, and once primitive life is established it might well go on to specialize on a purer, self-produced or at least self-segregated internal solvent... but I see no strong reason for such life to prefer specialization on and biotic production of oceanic quantities of isopropyl alcohol, over much simpler substrates like methanol or formaldehyde.


I’m sorry but isopropyl is typically used against microbial life; any bacteria (and presumably less complex Protists and Archaea, etc) and fungi are likely to be annihilated, introducing H2O will likely only seal their fate. However comments on the web imply that a pure solution free of water (90%+) may be less destructive and allow certain spore forms to lie dormant but this is something that goes beyond my knowledge of organic chemistry and I can really only quote the Internet.

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    $\begingroup$ A free beer to anyone who can turn a Hydroxyl into a Carboxyl under an ocean of whiskey. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2019 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ From memory high purity solutions don't kill germs because they detect the alcohol and form a protective barrier. A 70% solution (I believe) has enough water to trick the bacteria into allowing it through their membrane and the alcohol then kills it off. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Dec 16, 2019 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ *Assuming that the entire ecosystem has more or less evolved as it did on Earth $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Dec 16, 2019 at 9:44

The situation that you describe - oceans of isopropyl alcohol - are unlikely to occur naturally and if they did would be unlikely to remain uncontaminated for long.

The simple answer is we don't know and can't really tell with any certainty if organisms could evolve because the theoretical possibilities within chemistry and biology are so vast. I suspect not.

That said if the ocean was contaminated as it surely would be with water and other chemicals from erosion and reaction with the environment it is possible that a life form based on something other than isopropyl alcohol might evolve and extract the compounds that it needed from the ocean in the same way that Earth based life extracts oxygen from ours.


Yes and no in the same time. Alcohol and water mix in all proportions, so the world you create with pure alcohol oceans would quickly change to a mixture of water and alcohol. And we know that there are organisms that thrive in this mixture. We use them to make fermented beverages.


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