I have been struggling recently to find how boron-nitrogen compounds might affect the shape, texture, etc. of lifeforms that utilize it as a base substance. So far I have created precursors to cells, proteinoids that have a polyhedral tendency in their shape and they use alpha-amino boronic acids as one of many substitutes to the kind of amino acids life on earth utilizes. Taking from carbon as an example, biomass such as tissue might be a good place to start. Tissue in all living things here on earth is relatively smooth, semisolid, moistish. So building on this type of substitute I want to get a better idea of how small-scale structures like amino acids with elements that I know I am going to be using lead to larger structures like tissues and cells and how they might come to appear on a general basis. For example, I have used alpha-amino boronic acid to construct protocells or proteinoids that appear like micro-polyhedra, or more faceted than a sphere. Am I totally off base here? This is the kind of stuff I am rigorously searching for. How boron-nitrogen molecules, like the aforementioned alpha-amino boronic acid, can affect the organism's shape higher up. I'm not asking for really any structure beyond cells, tissue, proteinoids, etc. Just a general idea if it's even possible to determine at all. Even loose speculation is perfectly acceptable.


1 Answer 1


Earthling tissues aren't smooth, squishy, and moistish because they are built primarily out of carbon. They are smooth, squishy, and moistish--or rough, hard, rigid, and dry--because those are the properties that the organism requires from those tissues, and cells built from lipids, proteins, sugards, and nucleic acids are functionally flexible enough to either fill all those roles themselves, or construct extracellular matrices that can do so.

If nitroboranes are versatile enough to support biochemistry in the first place, I see no reason to then assume that they should be less capable in this regard than Earthling cells are. In other words: outside very specific and limited circumstances, what the primary polymer backbone units in your biochemistry are made of should have no significant impact on the morphological structures available to cells and tissues, which exist on scales several orders of magnitude above the size of a single molecule.

Polymer basis will affect tissue-scale morphology only insofar as it constrains the types of environments that such life could arise in, which environments will shape how organisms adapt to them.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for answering the question. That's what I was looking for. I just wanted to point out that I know tissue isn't moistish and squishy because it's composed of carbon. I was more getting at that fact that functionally flexible carbon macromolecules would differ from boron if it could form nitroborane macromolecules, so, on average, if you have nitroboranes instead of carbon as a basis for life, wouldn't you expect its histochemistry to change its rigidity, or am I just flat out wrong here that the properties of the elements affect the properties of the histochemistry, on average? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt very much that boron chemistry has sufficient complexity to support life. Carbon chemistry offers far more options by many orders of magnitude $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @KylerRusin If you substituted carbon atoms with nitrogen-boron groups one-for-one, then absolutely, it would affect rigidity--as well as quite a lot else! But you can't do that, because of all the "else", so I don't think you are "wrong" so much as this just isn't a very meaningful question to ask. Functional analogs between each type of life will not be exact structural analogs, so you can't say one or the other is inherently more or less rigid. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ It might be the case that, on average, nitroborane life requires more atoms, thus larger molecules, to achieve the same flexibility as carbon molecules in the same temperature, pressure, and solvation environments; or the exact opposite might be true! But either way, the scale is so far below the level of tissues that you probably don't need to worry about it. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Slarty That may be so, but a) that's a completely different question; and b) there is some serious selection bias at work because humans have studied carbon chemistry extensively. Nitroborane chemistry in anoxic anhydrous environments might be considerably more complex than we know; there's a huge gap in experimental chemistry knowledge that you could drive a Brandon Sanderson book series through! $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 17:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .