This question is a continuation of two prior ones.

  1. How to render much of a world's metal unusable?
  2. What minerals and metals in particular were vital to the development of early civilization?

The setting of my WIP is by no means Hard Science Fiction, it is Science-Fantasy I refuse to chose between the genre's that I love and sought to incorporate elements of both into my own work.

Because my world is fantastical I want it to have as few fridge logic invoking elements as possible. I don't want to break the audiences' "suspension of disbelief", so everything needs to flow together.

I ask is the following at least semi-plausible and what conceptual holes need to be plugged for it to work assuming that it could work at all.

After the development of higher life forms such as plants and animals, there was another great evolutionary leap forward. Some extremophiles began to leave their caustic pools for a much less hostile environment. These creatures were tenacious and complex, relying upon multiple vectors to attain the energy and raw material that they needed.

One linage evolved to become plant like,the botanicals, they absorbed minerals through a form of chemosynthesis and possessing a special apatite for the metals copper,tin,lead and iron, which were abundant in their birth region They also absorbed light and to a lesser extent heat, to among other things help process their metal diet into a pure state which was then used as both a skeleton and armor.

The other linage evolved to become animal like,the zoologicals, they were far more mobile than the botanicals but were but were less efficient at absorbing nutrients. So they began stealing what they needed from the the florals, the refined metals. This began an evolutionarily arms race between metal phages flora that wouldn't end until around the time that sapient races emerged. The botanical metal phages won the war through over kill, they began to produce a miasma that was powerful enough to kill anything around them, and worse this miasma would bond to pure metal(the very thing that florals bark/skin was composed of). Unable to feed the zoological linage of metal phages went extinct.

The Florals are immotile in their adult and form spread via their germ, which takes the form of airborne mites that would travel vast distance looking for rich metal deposits in which to germinate.

It is do to the evolution of a defensive miasma which the kills everything in its vicinity and contaminates pure metal. That early civilization was prevented from making a significant usage of metal and eventually lead to the development non metallic alternatives.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The big problem with this is that, contaminated by miasma or not, metal phage bodies are concentrations of extremely high-quality ore. At the least, raiding parties would wait for windy weather, then move in on the botanicals from upwind, slaughter them and run off with their spoils. It's hard to believe that traces of miasma seeping out of the metal during reifining will be more dangerous than, for instance, refining the arsenic-bearing ores which produced the earliest bronzes. And a "miasma" which somehow spoils pure metals like iron is going to take some explaining. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2016 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast The miasma is something that i'm might just have to hand-wave since I don't know of anything real that behaves exactly as I want it to. The miasma's lethality and ability to "taint" refined-metal was inspired by radiation and radiation poisoning. To explain how the miasma imparts its toxicity to pure metals,i would posit that the miasma acts through molecular bonding it becomes a part of the metal that it comes in contact with. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2016 at 12:59

2 Answers 2


It doesn't appear too-crazy. There are metal-eating bacteria in the real world.


Though normally they use metals as a form of food, gaining energy from combining them with oxygen.

There are plants which take up and concentrate metals, though none to my knowledge that generate solid lumps of metal. You might have to hand-wave that a little.


Extremophiles can adapt to almost anything up to and including living inside running nuclear reactors.

I would guess that any creature trying to use metal armour would need to grow it bellow a thin layer of tissue to protect it from oxygen to avoid rust and growing it would be slow and energy-intensive.

The only thing that strikes me as absurd is your miasma being 100% effective. Nothing is every 100% effective on a large population. Organisms are really good at evolving to resist any poisons their food sources produce.

Your 2 species just sound like plants and herbivores to some extent with metal refinement thrown in. Plants evolved a huge array of poisons to defend themselves, grow thick hard costly layers of lignin and cellulose in part to defend themselves from herbivores but herbivores always evolved ways of dealing with defenses. Sometimes as simple as walking upwind while feeding.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the likely need to hand wave the miasma. I don't know of anything real that behaves quite like I want. What inspired the miasma and its lethality were radiation and radiation poisoning;specifically polonium poisoning I threw in photo an thermo synthesis to help drive the metal processing. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2016 at 17:52

1- The main problem with metal eating microbes is that most metals are already found in oxidized, low energy states. This means that you would have to transform low-energy compounds to even lower energy compounds in order to use them for food.

This means that if you eat iron oxide (rust) and convert it to pure iron, you would actually have to provide it energy instead of hoping to obtain any energy from it. However if you convert oxides into chlorides and chlorides into sulphates/flourides, you can obtain energy from the process.

However remember that you cannot obtain energy from converting oxidized metal compounds back into pure metal. Suggesting that would send waves of angry chemistry professors at your door.

2- The lethal miasma issue. While some metal compounds are extremely deadly, there is no compound which is equally deadly to all creatures.

Plus, even if you do have a highly lethal miasma, it automatically suggests it would be a reactive compound. Which means that if you leave it be, it will react with water vapor, oxygen, carbon dioxide or something else in the environment (specially in the soil) and become non-toxic. There is NO toxic compound which you cannot turn non-toxic by treating it with other chemicals.

3- A self sustainable cycle always involves recycling. If you have a process that only goes in one direction, there would be only so much time before the reactants finish and the process stops.

For example, in your scenario, you have plants processing metallic compounds into lethal, unusable compounds.

plants find metallic compounds and utilize them => plants proliferate and render more and more metal reserves unusable as their (plants) number grows => all metal reserves are soon rendered unusable and all plants die.

You see the problem with this scenario? There is no recycling involved. Incorporate it and your ecosystem would be more practical and believable.

Edit To Add

4- A very serious problem with your world would be that all complex life forms on Earth require some seriously large amounts of metals in their bodies. For example, take the case of chordates (backboned animals). All chordates require several grams of iron in their bodies for blood (haemoglobin). All chordates also require metals (calcium) for bones and teeth formation.

You cannot have complex life on your planet where metals are out of reach.

  • $\begingroup$ 1. when I think about it the absorption of metal is largely for the material that it provides,they do also ingest other materials. I did say that metal-phages are photo and to lesser degree thermo synthetic to help supplement there energy needs and process raw metal into a refined state, which is incorporated into the body primarily as armor. How efficient of a power source metal would be is something that I don't know, but what I do know is that there are proposed engines that can burn metal as fuel. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2016 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ 1.A the metal-phages at least in my initially conception of them took in raw ore and refined it for their own use. I didn't see them as feeding on rust or other forms of degraded metal. 2. the miasma is probably going to have to be hand-have because I don't know of anything that behaves quite like I want the miasma to. What inspired the miasma is radiation and radiation poising, specifically the incredibly lethality of polonium. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2016 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ 3. I have an idea about that I just didn't put it in the OP, the metal in the metal-phages bodies is "resealed" when they day leaving behind a corpse containing pure metal. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2016 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ It is your world, of course you are free to do whatever you want. I don't find the prospect very realistic, but that's just my thought. I am not criticizing your approach, just pointing out how it is incoherent with the current scientific knowledge of biology and (specially) chemistry. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2016 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'm trying to smooth out the wrinkles that I can. I have created a form of life that doesn't exist on earth, so things aren't going to be in line with reality since there is nothing directly analogous. No extremophiles no my knowledge ever evolved into higher life forms? So critique away, and offer possible solutions to. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2016 at 14:45

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