I ran a game of Corporation for my group a while ago. They are part of a colony team that have landed on an earth type planet and are building cities, mostly with huge 3d printer robots, in preparation for the majority of the colonists to move into when they arrive later. The planetary survey ship had been sending information back to Earth but the transmission was interrupted (attacked by a hostile, unknown craft) and crashed on the planet (a team will be sent to recover the data at some point where they will learn much more about the potential hazards on the planet).

I'm thinking up some complications for them to investigate and/or resolve and I'm stuck for inspiration on one. A city will have reported a midday fog bank rolling in, and then no more communications come from them. I would like this to be caused by a giant spore cloud released by the native flora and it has affected the humans when inhaled. The team sent in to investigate will find a few people who had the foresight to get into environmental suits. I am picturing the spores affect people when inhaled so anyone with a respiration mask should be fine.

I had planned for the break in communications will be due to the people being unable to get in touch with the others rather than the spores affecting the communications equipment itself.

I didn't really want to go for classics like it turns them mad or it sucks out all the moisture from the body so I was wondering: what potential side effects could flora spores on an earth-like planet have on humans?

  • $\begingroup$ Cosider that the spores sprout in any open woulds, cuts etc. Also, consider that you said that comms from the city went silent without warning. This implies that whatever happened was without time to hit the emergency button. How possible is this in your scenario. Would every person with access to the comms (and knowledge to send a warning) be able to be taken out? Could the spores have affected the comms and not the people? Is there something required for the transmit function that the spores could grow on and mess up? $\endgroup$ – sabbahillel May 6 '16 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor In my personal opinion, this is just short of too broad, but I guess we'll see how it goes. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 6 '16 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ This question doesn't fit WB SE because it's asking us to invent your world for you. If you came up with some effects and asked us to validate your ideas that would be one thing. But as it stands, I can't help but feel that you're asking us to do your work for you. There is no qualitative way in which one answer might be shown to be superior to another (no parameters are provided), so the question is unanswerable. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 6 '16 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Jason, I approved the migration because I think we can get this to work here, but it's pretty broad right now. You ask about alien flora, which could be anything, but also say earth-like, which provides some scoping at least. Can you edit in more information about the local vegetation? Even on earth, flora varies a lot by where you are on the planet. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio May 6 '16 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ As far as the question is concerned, here's a few pointers: describe your world in a decent amount of (relevant) detail. You want these spores to do something terrible to the people exposed to it, however does it affect everyone, or only a certain percentage of people? What about the people who wear respirators, or work indoors? Do the spores need to be breathed in, or simply come in contact with the skin? Why is it that the spores were never detected until that point? Why is it that the spores are blocking communications? After all, these outposts would probably have automated systems. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 6 '16 at 20:40

In a realistic setting, alien species are not going to be able to affect humans (or humans affect aliens) in the ways that movies depict. Species are evolved to specialize in their niche environments, and predators and parasites are carefully co evolved with their prey or hosts. The easy way to think about this is consider that Humans don't catch Dutch Elm Disease and trees don't catch colds. Similarly, if you were to import great white sharks into the Serengeti, they are unlikely to replace lions as the top predator....

Alien species could have a detrimental effect in a few other ways, however. The alien proteins that make up their bodies and parts could induce violent allergic reactions on terrestrial animals (including humans). Police and bomb dogs, for example, could suffer as alien spores enter their respiratory tracts.

A second way of affecting terrestrial life is if there molecules are opposite to ours. All terrestrial life is based on "left handed" molecules (Chirality), and if alien proteins and sugars are right handed, they may pass through the human digestive system essentially taking up space but adding no nutritive value. This might become an issue if the alien life becomes dominant in an area and surviving humans attempt to eat it because there is nothing else.

The final (lethal) way alien life might affect terrestrial life is if the alien proteins act as "keys" and fill spots in biologically active molecules needed for terrestrial life. Most molecular activity is based on a "lock and key" principle, but sometimes several different molecules can act as "keys". Hemoglobin is used to transport oxygen through the body, but if you breath in Carbon Monoxide the CO molecules fill the same spot that the oxygen molecules do, displacing the oxygen and preventing the blood from transporting oxygen.

So effects ranging from allergies to a swift death are all possible with alien spores or other types of life, but the biological mechanisms are not the same as being eaten or consumed by an alien creature or disease.

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    $\begingroup$ "if you were to import great white sharks into the Serengeti, they are unlikely to replace lions as the top predator...." <- LOL $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 7 '16 at 13:12

There are a few things you could do, but I think some good inspiration could be taken from the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasma_gondii)

This parasite changes behavior in humans rather subtly, but actually causes rats that it has infected to be less afraid of cat urine, increasing their likelihood of being eaten. As cats' bodies are a necessary environment for the parasite to reproduce, this change in behavior increases their reproductive success.

Similarly, this spore could require a certain environment or event animal host to reproduce, and could alter the behavior of humans it has infected through their inhalation in order to facilitate such an environment, causing them to wander to a marshy area of the planet and let themselves sink into the swamp, for example. Or just causing them to seek out and be devoured by some sort of predator, exactly as toxoplasma does.

A fungus that does this to ants, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, can be read further about here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis. This fungus causes the ants to seek a suitable environment for the fungus to sprout, the forest floor, and affix themselves to a leaf until they die. After which, the fruiting bodies literally explode out of the ant's corpse. That would make for some good flavor, as well.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello, cottog. I referenced you in a comment up there. It's a link to some pointers about asking well framed questions on WB SE. This will serve as a good point of reference for you to be able to judge questions, and decide if it's worth answering them or not (aka vote to close, ask for more details in the comments, etc.). For example, in this case, if the OP changes his requirements then your answer may no longer be relevant, or worse, get down-voted. Just a friendly suggestion. Welcome to the site! $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 6 '16 at 20:45

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