3
$\begingroup$

Concept: An organism that through its natural biological processes excretes some form of microscopic life that spreads through an environment by breaking down organic (and maybe inorganic) matter and restructuring it into a material that is beneficial to the initial organism. Said organism is an animal and a predator.

For the purposes of this question assume both the organism and the microscopic life it spawns was engineered to work together and are not a product of normal evolution.

Things I'd Like it to Do:

  • Once excreted grow on its own through its own methods, though obviously not as quickly as when the initial organism is spreading it.
  • It can be consumed by the organism as food when food is scarce. Potentially growing larger plant-like structures that can be eaten.
  • It provides additional tactile connectivity to the spawning organism's limbs, allowing it to easily climb over walls and along ceilings covered in the substance.
  • It can send signals through its mass that can provide information about the environment to the original organism. Including when other creatures have entered the vicinity and where they are.
  • It is capable of being highly corrosive, making it weaken the structural integrity of barriers and forms of containment so the creature can move more freely.
  • It can slowly change the local air into something toxic that can be breathed by the original organism. The toxin doesn't need to be especially potent. Probably less potent when exposed to open environments.
  • It collects data about any organisms it grows over and infests. This data can be accessed by the creatures that spawn the substance.
  • It can be communicated with in some way by the organism that spawned it and manipulated into growing into various forms. Including creating biological computers and tools for the organism to use.
  • It is gross, sticky, and unpleasant to humans. This step is most important.

The question: What IS it exactly? A mass of cells? Bacteria? A symbiotic fungus? Or some kind of specialized virus? Am I looking at a mass of slimey flesh growing over the floor and walls?

What kind of life form could my creature be generating or acting as a host for that'd make some sense doing all the above?

Bonus Question: Are there any additional benefits my organism might have from this arrangement I've not considered? Similarly are there any major downsides?

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I would start by looking at coral reef and modifying from there. Or even jelly fish. $\endgroup$
    – Len
    Apr 5 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ This so speculative that it could be any of the things you suggested. Not so much a worldbuilding question, then -- it's your story! $\endgroup$
    – workerjoe
    Apr 5 at 16:47
3
$\begingroup$

I'd have suggested a fungus of some kind... there's already some biological precedent there in the form of leafcutter ants and the fungus they farm. It provides food and secretes antimicrobial chemicals, and the ants understand its chemical signalling so they know what is and isn't a good food for it, etc.

Unfortunately, you have these requirements:

  • It collects data about any organisms it grows over and infests. This data can be accessed by the creatures that spawn the substance.
  • It can be communicated with in some way by the organism that spawned it and manipulated into growing into various forms. Including creating biological computers and tools for the organism to use.

This is not a property of any kind of biological micro-organism, but instead a general purpose self-replicating nanomechanism. As such it may as well be magic, and can do more or less anything you'd like, ticking off all the requirements in your list.

You should decide what you want. If you're after some kind of biological symbiosis, cut out the requirements for nanotech magic. If you're not willing to part with them, just handwave the stuff in as alien nanotech and you'll be just fine.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Limited communication could be possible, A pheromone released when the fungi is damaged for instance, or chemical signals for mineral content. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 9 at 18:07
2
$\begingroup$

This organism (the "microscopic life" - I'll call the big organism the Xenomorph) clearly has a long evolutionary history of its own. You want it to be an intelligent pet, so start with an advanced eukaryote (such as the fungus from another answer), or even an animal. Consider the crab hacker, a barnacle that has evolved into something like a "smart cancer" that reprograms crabs from the inside. This symbiotic organism may be a distant relative, or parallel evolution from another lineage of arthropod.

It filters food (symbiotic bacteria?) like a barnacle, feeds the Xenomorph like a honeydew aphid, provides bridge support like a column of migrating ants, and sends signals through its mass like a colony of bees. It has the "corrosive" effect of termites, at least, and you might look to bombardier beetles and other insects for more ideas. A termite-like digestion of wood might involve symbiotic bacteria that release methane; or you might generate formic acid; maybe even convert it into formaldehyde, released safely beyond the organisms' exoskeletons only when they are threatened.

A colony of microscopic arthropod-derived organisms certainly could have many small eyes, and should store some sort of memory. It should be able to do some degree of "thinking", and certainly can control how it grows. So the remaining criteria require only a very good means of communication. Waggle dance, however much it impresses ecologists, is not a good method of communication in that it can't be used to say you need a new sneaker. I'm going to say ... interorganismal synapse.

The Xenomorph lies down on its bed to rest, and patches of its skin rapidly conform very closely to the integument of the small organisms it spawns. They could secrete neurotransmitters back and forth, and enter a state of communication with long-term potentiation occurring on the small organisms' side. They can pick up some instructions about what is expected of them, and transmit those perhaps to others of their colony by a similar method. Alternatively, you might prefer to have "electrical gap junctions" (proteins that form an electrical bridge between cells) rather than synapses. Keeping the neurotransmitters under control in an ad hoc synapse could be tough, and often you just want to move the action potential from one organism to the next. They relay generate a series of action potentials in the Xenomorph's skin that encode audio information, for example, the same way that it is encoded in the auditory nerve. If you have different types of synapses or gap junctions, or larger patterned organs for nerve connection, then the Xenomorph and its symbiotes can send different types of data at once - for example, a visual field representation. You can be a bit handwavy here because you're inventing a new biology and a new method of sentience, but no one would dispute that synapses can send information.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer. I hadn't considered an insect-like organism. That would allow them to fairly radically alter the environment around them. I also like your explanation for how they can communicate information between the swarm and the larger animal. I could make an interesting story beat out of the creature forgoing conventional dreaming for a sort of mental interaction with its swarm as it sleeps. $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 5:45
0
$\begingroup$

It could be some sort of colony, like an ant colony, where the host is the "queen" and the organisms it creates are hatched by it. They would perform their duties like ants do, though their duties could be different and they would be anatomically different so they could, for example, maybe excrete a substance that reacts with the air around it and causes it to become toxic.

Or you could do some sort of symbiotic relationship instead.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.