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How plausible is it that alien life may contain nutrition and vitamins that affect our biology in a way that is not possible with the current chemicals and vitamins that exist in nature? Like say if colonists went to another planet and happened upon a plant that when consumed overtime causes your nails to grow faster.

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Highly unlikely.

Looking at various effects that alien life could have, and evaluating their plausibility based on the complexity of the molecular structures involved:

  • Poisons: highly likely. There are a number of extremely simple molecules that interfere with human biochemistry in ways that render it non-functional, such as hydrogen cyanide. The odds of alien biochemistry producing one or more of these is quite good.
  • Energy sources: reasonably likely, though you'll probably get drunk as a result. There are four families of molecules that the human body can use for energy: alcohols, sugars, fats, and proteins. Of these, only alcohol has a structure simple enough that alien life is likely to, by chance, produce it.
  • Psychoactive drugs: mostly unlikely. Most such substances are complex structures, highly tuned to affect Earth-based nervous systems. See, for example, nicotine (a neurotoxin that, when consumed by humans rather than the insects it targets, merely causes interesting effects). The one exception, as noted above, is alcohol, which is highly likely to be found on other planets.
  • Development-altering effects: extremely unlikely. Human biochemistry generally does not use simple molecules for internal signaling. For example, human growth hormone is a chain of 191 amino acids; the odds of an alien plant happening to produce something that would trigger the same receptors is infinitesimal.

In short:

  • Eat alien plant and die: yes
  • Eat alien plant and get drunk: maybe
  • Eat alien plant and get high: no
  • Eat alien plant and grow outsized hands: not a chance
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  • $\begingroup$ What rules out the possibility of convergence in regards to what amino acids are used for nutrition? If it molecular arrangements are entirely probability based than life wouldn't exist to begin with. However I do like knowing that liquor from alien worlds are very plausible a thing. $\endgroup$ – Zoppadoppa Oct 8 '16 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @InterstellarTK, a few of the simpler amino acids such as glycine or alanine might show up, but even if alien life goes with amino acids rather than some other carbon structure, there are thousands of possible amino acids. Molecular arrangements aren't entirely probability-based, but there is an enormous range of structures which could work for life, but aren't used on Earth. (Simple, uncontroversial example: you could flip the chirality of every molecule in Earth biochem and get a viable life-form that is mostly non-nutritious to Earth life.) $\endgroup$ – Mark Oct 8 '16 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is pausible to eat an alien plant and get high. There are enough different compounds made by plants that do this that I think it is entirely paussible to find a random plant that can make you high. $\endgroup$ – Garret Gang Sep 27 '17 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ @GarretGang, plants don't make very many different compounds, compared to the variety of possible compounds. Going back to my nicotine example, there are hundreds of trivial variations on it (move the nitrogens around, move the CH3 attached to one of the nitrogens, substitute phosphorus or carbon for nitrogen, etc.), and very few of these will have any effect on a human. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sep 27 '17 at 19:55
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Our biology evolved based on the nutrients available in our environment. Any alien flora or fauna that gave us an additional nutritional advantage would be a concentration of nutrients already available on Earth. However, we are constantly discovering new compounds in places like the Amazon that have an effect on our physiology. Perhaps your alien species is a natural proton pump inhibitor (aka Prilosec) and eating it cures heartburn.

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EXTREMELY PLAUSIBLE

At its simplest, what you're talking about is not radically different from the ethnic dietary requirements already found on earth. Ethnicities with longtime regional backgrounds in have adapted to the diet available in their region. Although radical dietary changes in real life tend to revolve around deficiencies, such as a Western European trying to get by on an Inuit diet, it's easy to see how such a change might be beneficial instead. Just make the effects are also plausible. People are unlikely to grow a foot if hair per day, for instance, whatever their diet.

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