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How likely is it that we would be able to eat carbon-based life that evolved independently from us? For example, if something like fruit evolved, how likely is it to be edible?

I would presume that plants are pretty much plants, but we can't eat just any plant.

Basically I'm trying to figure out how much the diet of a space-faring colonist would differ from our own.

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closed as too broad by TrEs-2b, subrunner, Aify, Hohmannfan, Frostfyre Apr 30 '16 at 22:48

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ I think your question is too broad. A beginning would be to have more details about the planet. What does 'life unrelated but necessarily unlike ours' mean? Does it follow the same carbon-oxygen biology as our life, or does it have a sulfur-related biology? Did they develop the same basic proteins as earth life? etc. $\endgroup$ – subrunner Apr 30 '16 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Well, we can eat grass, some have the cyanide problem but non all of them do. We cant live on just that, but we do eat some grasses, it can also have its uses as bulking agent once dried. Id say that if you were dropped in a remote corner of the planet on your own you would have the same problem of safe or not without having to travel across space. In your question the effects could be getting fat on delicious food or getting poisoned and everything in between $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren Apr 30 '16 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure someone asked the question about how to detect whether an alien plant would be edible on an Earth-like planet. $\endgroup$ – Mikey May 1 '16 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ "plants are pretty much plants" . This is really hurting my biology soul. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan May 1 '16 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, I'd think the question is answerable in the general case. Assuming evolution to be true, would we expect plants the evolved on another planet to be edible by humans? Sure, you could add attributes of the planet that would affect the answer, but I'd think they'd make little difference in the long run, as the answer would be, "Almost certainly not. The probability that two completely separate evolutionary trees would have genetic material similar enough for this to work would be microscopic." $\endgroup$ – Jay May 1 '16 at 7:39
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It is a game of chance. There are multiple examples of proteins that have a Chirality. While being made of the same atoms (and even of the same bonds), they are not identical and may have different properties.
While I'm certainly no expert on this topic, it is easily possible that a totally harmless L-Protein could be a very poisonous D-Protein$^{[citation\ needed]}$.
In other cases it can simply be useless to us, as our enzyms can't process it (the form of a molecule is as important as the composition to our body).

Why exactly most proteins on earth are L has apparently not been explained completely and satisfactory, it is entirely possible that the whole alien ecosystem is based on D-Proteins.


Regarding psychological effects that is up to your imagination. There are so many different substances which can influence the human (or, broader, the terrestrial) mind that you can possibly get any effect that can be achieved by drugs as well. Likewise with physiological effects.

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  • $\begingroup$ As pointed out by subrunner this is by no means an exhaustive answer. It is merely a single aspect of it. $\endgroup$ – J_F_B_M Apr 30 '16 at 21:32

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