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I have a group of genetically engineered humans with pink $\color{#fe019a}{\text{(#fe019a)}}$ skeletons. The humans are naturally born with it so it isn't transplanted. Furthermore, the skeletons are pink within the body and when exposed outside. Asides from the skeleton, the humans are as similar to us as can be allowed under their modified biology.

My problem is finding a plausible mechanism for how the skeletons are pink. I can't find any examples in nature.

The solution has to explain how the skeleton is pink. Since having a skeleton like this would likely require slight modifications to a human body, I can allow it as long as the human remain recognizably human and that the modifications are minimized as much as possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does it matter if the skeleton is a different colour inside the body than out? Like for instance the skeleton was green inside the body but then pink (#fe019a) outside $\endgroup$
    – iolim5678
    Commented Jul 10 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @iolim5678 Pink in, pink out. Will edit it. $\endgroup$
    – Dmyt
    Commented Jul 10 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ Pigments are what is needed. That is, search keyword: pigment. Adding pigments to whatever will in general change the color of whatever. eg. human skin by melanin. vegetables by carotenoids . $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 10 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ Salmon flesh is naturally white/translucid but they get their pink colour from their diet. That's why farmed salmon are fed with colourants to emulate the healthy pink colour from wild salmon. This probably doesn't help you but I couldn't help myself :) $\endgroup$
    – Renaud
    Commented Jul 11 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ Somali goats — google.com/search?q=Somali+goat+pink+bones+yeheb $\endgroup$
    – jmoreno
    Commented Jul 13 at 3:26

8 Answers 8

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I'm a Bit Rusty at This:

Your genies have a metabolic mechanism to scavenge damaging oxidative compounds from the blood. A thin lining of cells coating the bones reacts iron/iron oxide with these compounds to neutralize them. the resulting insoluble rust-colored oxides gradually build up and discolor the surrounding bone. So your genies start out as newborns with pristine blush-colored bone, and end up with a sort of rouge in old age.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452199X21005338

The Flamingo Kid:

Flamingos are naturally WHITE. but the food they eat is full of red compounds that build up in the feathers, making them pink. A similar mechanism works in your genies - either the same metabolic system listed above, or simply an accumulation of dyes they happen to deposit in their bone.

https://www.britannica.com/story/why-are-flamingos-pink

I am Iron Man:

Your genies have a mechanism to rapidly repair bone when it is injured. Special cells are embedded throughout the bone, ready to trigger an explosion of repair activity when damage occurs. The pattern of these cells provides a matrix for the resulting repaired bone to line up to the original bone matrix and prevent mis-fused bone. Iron-containing compounds are central to this function, signaling repair mechanisms. This is also functionally a reserve of iron in the body to prevent iron deficiency. The result of these red compound deposited in white bone is a pink-hued bone material.

https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/24/8/6891#:~:text=Therefore%2C%20iron%20is%20necessary%20for,function%20disorder%20of%20bone%20cells.

I'm Feeling a bit overloaded:

Your genies have metabolic alterations that make them prone to hemochromatosis. But a compensating system has been used to prevent organ damage. Instead of depositing excess iron in organs, it is instead safely and quietly precipitated as a layer of iron oxide on the surface of the bones. This same mechanism might also be able to function as a form of heavy metal chelation - even slightly radioactive compounds are isolated inside the (relatively shielded and unliving parts of) bone.

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14971-hemochromatosis-iron-overload

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Stable pink protein might be difficult to make, but a mixture of two or three colored proteins would be easier. But for just dark pinkish red, you might express mScarlet or mCherry selectively on one of the major cell types for bone formation. These are fluorescent proteins that are quite red when excited, but in sunlight they should be still redish. Mixed with the pale bone color, it may look quite pinkish but not #fe019a.

An alternative would be to create nano-structure etched on the bone surface such that the interference pattern selectively absorbs green. Inside the bone will not be pink in this case.

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    $\begingroup$ iorn oxide will give you pink, specifically Fe2O3 $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jul 10 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ These are such solid suggestions, I love this answer. It's easy to handwave the real life complexities of genetic modification for the first option, and the second is such a neat explanation for the colour itself that describing how the bones get that way could just remain a mystery. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ Worth noting that colors derived from nano-structure interference patterns absolutely exist in nature: schemochromes. Show up in all sorts of strange places, including most "blue" feathers. $\endgroup$
    – Jay McEh
    Commented Jul 11 at 14:58
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The best explanation for these humans'skeletons to be such a neon pink is for them to have come from an environment with a toxically high concentration of Cobalt II ions, that they have become adapted to by sequestering the cobalt in their bones as hydrated Cobalt Chloride. When combined with the pale yellow colour of normal human bones, this would produce bones that could be almost exactly the desired neon pink.

Hydrated Cobalt Chloride

Image from https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cobalt(II)_chloride_hexahydrate.jpg

Neon Pink

Inage from https://colorcodefinder.com/colors/neon-pink

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    $\begingroup$ This is what I was going to say, except to add that cobalt is found in vitamin B12 and is still this colour. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of vitamin B12 and you can see here that the vial is bright pink in the +3 oxidized form en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanocobalamin . Note the ring structure, which is similar (but not identical) to hemoglobin. A mutation that accumulates vitamin B12 and/or a diet rich in cobalt could cause this. Perhaps they evolved to tolerate a high cobalt diet. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ Your own reference shows cobalt chloride hexahydrate is readily water soluble, so it is unlikely to be a precipitate in the aqueous environment of the body. The chloride is also toxic by itself, highly allergenic, and is likely carcinogenic. Far more likely it would be bound to something like EDTA and flushed out the kidneys. High levels may interfere with regulation of resistance to Brucellosis. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9143810 $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jul 12 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ ...And I think the bones would turn blue if/when they dried out. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jul 12 at 14:12
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calcium-bismuth molecular structure

This is a bit of handwavium, but presume that the engineers figured out a way to make the bones slightly more durable by having the bone cells excrete a small amount of bismuth into the structure.

Or maybe it improves neural regenerative capabilities, or gives them flawless digestion, or whatever. Pick something fun.

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    $\begingroup$ Bismuth is beige. Pepto-Bismol and its clones are pink due to food coloring. $\endgroup$
    – arp
    Commented Jul 12 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @arp, I stand corrected. Thank you! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12 at 2:20
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Lucky you, this is actually an observed phenomenon in mammals, namely: Somalian Goats :)

Quote:

On investigation, the scientists found that the coloration was caused after the goats browsed on the leaves Cordeauxia Edulis which produces a pigment called Cordeauxiaquinone. This pigment forms a compound with some other minerals and gets deposited in the bones resulting in the pink colour.

Studies show that this has no ill effects on the goats themselves, or the people who eat them. Therefore I see no reason why your pink humans could not be eating some plant of animal rich in Cordeauxiaquinone until their bones are pink. Even if the pigment were to be toxic in high concentrations, evolving to tolerate pigments is what mammals do all the time (hence why you can drink tea despite it being a potent tanning agent).

Im not sure if this would give them pink teeth as well, but this is very possible, especially if they ingested Cordeauxiaquinone-rich food during their early childhood.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you provide a link to this quote? $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jul 12 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @DWKraus, ttps://gulfnews.com/world/gulf/oman/goat-meat-with-pink-bones-safe-to-eat-scientists-say-1.536336 $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15 at 7:56
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My Skeleton is FABULOUS Bitches!

The group is genetically engineered to abhor plain colors and seek out the most colorful expression in their Attire, this attribute is ingrained so strongly in their psyche, that the Body itself seeks to adhere to this desire.

Thus, a plain, white, boring Skeleton will not do for our Genetically Engineered Super-Fashionistas! No, they must have a Skeleton that can match their fabulous outfits, so that even when they are in hospital, they can look their best.

And so like the Placebo effect whereby belief in something manifests it into reality, the belief in having a colourful skeleton results in it being so.

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  • $\begingroup$ More likely, they would deliberately consume something that would stain their bone if this was the desired effect. But then, why consistently pink? make a fashion statement with purple or burgundy! $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jul 11 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus - I dunno, but the answer just jumped out at me and I felt it was too funny not tl post. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11 at 11:26
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The humans were genetically modified to survive in an area with high copper in the soil and native food sources. Lacking a good mechanism to excrete copper, it's bound into a pink sulfur compound which is sequestered in their bones. (Someone already suggested iron oxide, copper seems more plausible to me.)

Partial inspiration https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18961507/ "A sulphuric acid solution of Cu(I) compound, when treated with a dilute ferricyanide solution in the presence of ammonia, gives a salmon-pink, red-pink, pink-purple or purple colour or precipitate, characteristic of copper(I). "

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The skeleton incorporates an abundance of some of the oxidation states of Manganese (Mn). The 2+ ionic states are naturally occurring pale pink compounds such as manganese II chloride and manganese carbonate:

MnCl2.4H2O

Manganese chloride tetrahydrate. Image attribution: Ondřej Mangl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

MnCO3

Manganese carbonate as mineral rhodrochrysite. Image attribution: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another option is a mix of the permanganate ion (MnVII ionic state, The ion is known as MnO4) with the calcium phosphate that normally makes up bones. Permanganate is a very strong pink to purple colour, but if you dilute this with the white (e.g. of calcium phosphate), you should get a pale pink/purple colour. Here's what it looks like in solution:

KMNO4

Image attribution: David Mülheims (David Mülheims, Germany), CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

We have vanishingly small amounts (about 12 milligrams/0.0004 oz) of manganese in our bodies, partly because it is not very abundant in the natural environment, but it is an essential part of our biochemistry, functioning as a cofactor for many types of proteins. Manganese and its various ions are somewhat toxic if found in abundance, causing a condition known as manganism, which primarily has neurological (nerve/brain) and nephrological (kidney) effects.

However - explanation of what it does: with some genetic engineering these toxicity problems are solved (hand-wavy) and the Mn incorporation strengthens bones by creating (via hand-wavy biochemistry) a laminate on the surface by reaction with the calcium phosphate in the bone (Mn phosphate and permanganate is actually used for this to strengthen engineering structures). The stronger bones are good for extra-terrestrial exploration.

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  • $\begingroup$ The lower oxidation states of manganese produce pale pink but are plausible. Manganese VII (permanganate etc) is a very strong pink colour but is very strongly oxidising. It is in the dentist's pink mouthwash. Any significant accumulation of manganese VII is going to be as damaging to human tissue as bleach. Cobalt is more plausible IMO. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ @LevelRiverSt Yeah, some problems, particularly the oxidation, I totally agree, but this is world-building after all. I didn't think of cobalt salts, much more familiar with the Mn ones in my day-to-day usage. $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 11 at 23:17

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