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So I'm working on an alien race I'm calling the Zaux. They look sort of like big, upright stomatopods. They're a super collectivist hive society, completely dedicated to their species' survival. Their homeworld is an extreme war ground of natural selection; species adapt and evolve far faster in a far more brutal competition than anything on Earth.

Their society does not waste labor like ours does. No one makes or consumes things that aren't needed, everything is done for the advancement of the species as as whole. Their species is a bit younger than ours, but because they're so much more efficient than us, they have a level of technology centuries ahead of ours.

Basically all of their tech is bioengineered stuff. What kind of weapons would they use? If that's too broad, I'll narrow it to this; what kind of significant near- and far-future biotech advancements can we currently foresee happening? Of those, what are weaponizable?

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    $\begingroup$ you know, this story is strangely similar to my own, accept my aliens are amphibian/reptilian-like people with cat-like faces instead of giant mantis shrimp. I've found the main advantage of bio-mechanical tools and vehicles is that they can do half the maintenance themselves (regeneration and hormone reactions). I'm also developing mine, so i don't have enough for an answer but I hope I helped. $\endgroup$ – XenoDwarf Oct 26 '16 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ Have you considered actually biologically engineering the creatures, their warriors are born to be warriors because they can shoot acid or have special shells that make them resilient to enemy attacks? $\endgroup$ – Flotolk Dec 1 '16 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ the most unbelievable part of this race is that they do everything for the benefit of the species as a whole, this is not evolutionarily stable, as soon as selfishness evolves it is going to be a huge advantage, especially in your brutal fast evolving world. It's the hawk and dove problem. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 1 '16 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ They are long since past the evolution of selfishness. No single Zaux can possibly survive the vicious competition of their homeworld. The larger the group of Zaux, the greater chance of survival. Selfishness is a dire threat to all individuals as well as the group. Realizing this, they engineered themselves to be neurologically incapable of anything but total dedication to the survival of the species. $\endgroup$ – Kronimiciad Dec 1 '16 at 5:11
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The advantages of bioengineered weapons are autonomy and self-replication. Truly advanced bioengineering would allow for the creation of terrifyingly effective weapons. This answer will cover some various archetypes of potential living weapons.

Biological Warfare

The simplest biological weapon to produce is one that humans are already working on. What we think of as “biological warfare”. This equates essentially to creating potent diseases. If your aliens use DNA and RNA then their engineering technology will likely work on our existing pathogens. The aliens will have to do a lot of analysis to figure out how earth biology works, but once they have the basics they will be able to create diseases more devastating than any humanity has ever faced.

Viruses tailored to wipe out entire human populations in days are only the beginning. Bacteria, fungi, and plants designed to degrade infrastructure and electronics, destroy crops and livestock are also possibilities. Entire ecosystems can be wiped out by the extinction of vital keystone species. Your alien genetic engineers could create blights to poison our soils, our seas, and our air. If they so wished they could destroy not just humanity, but life as we know it.

These are truly weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear or even an antimatter weapons merely render a single planet uninhabitable. These are weapons of genocide, contagious and persistent enough that refugees will bring with them to other worlds repeating the process over and over again. A single space-born spore would be capable of destroying an interstellar civilization.

Conventional Warfare

As far as conventional warfare goes I think it’s important to point out that there’s no reason it would be impossible to use biotech to manufacture weapons made out of metal and plastic and powered by electricity. I imagine you want your weapons to be squishy and gooey and squirming though, because otherwise what’s the point?

With that said, a lot of what is possible for your aliens in terms of weapons is going to depend on just how advanced they are. Our current metal, plastic, and silicon based technology is vastly superior to anything alive on earth and certainly anything Earth is capable of evolving. But your aliens are presumably capable of spaceflight using living spaceships so clearly they have improved on mother nature. Organic materials like spider silk can be quite strong and even surpass artificial materials in some areas. Fortunately for the aliens, the strongest material ever tested, graphene, is actually carbon based. In theory your biotech could be capable of synthesizing various allotropes of carbon. Weapon barrels, ship hulls, bunkers, and armor plates could be composed of monomolecular sheets of graphene, grown carbon by carbon by biological processes, sandwiched between proteinaceous layers that provide additional mechanical strength as well as thermal and electrical insulation. This sort of arrangement would likely be incredibly effective as a form of armor. On the offensive front biological processes are quite capable of producing potent poisons, explosive chemicals, strong acids, and the aforementioned diseases. This means in terms of conventional weapons you can easily imagine a big biological tank that your aliens can get in and shoot gouts of flame or lob explosive rounds from. But let’s try thinking outside the box. Why require your tank to be piloted at all? It’s a living thing, let’s make it intelligent. This is where the advantage of autonomy comes in.

Autonomous Weapons

Imagine a fruit fly. A tiny, 2.5 mm long, flying insect. It has 250,000 neurons that allow it to walk and fly, find food, mate, lay eggs, and avoid our clumsy attempts to squish it. It’s easy to imagine how a brain of that size could be programmed to walk and fly, find humans, deliver diseases, poisons, acids, and explosives, and evade basic countermeasures. I use fruit flies as an example simply to indicate just how small a brain is needed to enable fairly sophisticated behaviors that will make for effective weapons. It is this ability to produce autonomous, intelligent weapons that is the greatest strength of organic technology in “conventional” warfare. Your missiles won’t be fooled by flares or other countermeasures. Your tanks will be savants in calculating trajectories. Your landmines will distinguish between friend and foe.

By autonomy I’m not just referring to the ability of these weapons to function without their masters, but also their independence from any logistical structure. They are fully combat effective without any outside input in the form of supplies or commands. A surface-to-air missile is expensive. Humans have to mine and refine all sorts of materials, shape them through several successive steps, create incredibly advanced microchips, assemble it all together, transport it out to the front lines, and put it on a launcher. Imagine if you could simply plant a seed on the end of a nutrient hose and grow an intelligent missile. As it grows it chemically refines its nutrients into an explosive warhead and fills an internal cavity with fuel. It creates its own launching structure and grows aerodynamic, adjustable fins and a gimbaled rocket nozzle. At its nose it forms an advanced eye constantly scanning the sky and just behind it a brain instinctively programmed to destroy enemy craft.

While this missile may be significantly less effective than a human-crafted one, its important advantage is it is free. Made organically from the water, soil, and sunlight of a world it didn’t have to be transported to, it is simply grown right where it is needed.

Now imagine that nutrient hose which provided everything the missile needed also grew from a seed. A seed that was planted in plenty of sunlight on the banks of a river that grew huge arrays of photosynthesizing leaves for energy. The hub sends roots deep into the earth and water to harvest the necessary materials and uses them to feed a whole battery of missiles, interceptors, ground forces, and of course, seeds for more hubs. An autonomous, intelligent, self-reproducing weapon that requires no logistical support.

Your biological weapons might not be as fast, or as sturdy, or as powerful as their man-made counterparts. But they are going to be numerous. They are going to be smart.

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You may want to look into some existing examples of species that use biotech as their main form of technology. For example:

  • Yuuzhan Vong (Star Wars EU): spaceships and armor grown from coral, weapons are organisms that eject plasma or molten rock (depending on the creture), shields are organisms that generate tiny black holes to 'suck in' enemy weapons fire (perhaps too much sci-fi for you) working on both energy- and mass-based weapons. They basically use advanced bio-engineering to make creatures to do whatever they want.
  • Zerg (StarCraft): spaceships are entire living creatures, weapons mostly based off currently known biological processes (create and eject acid, poison, toxins, etc), instead of shields armor is a strong carapace. They basically use targeted evolution to develop useful weapons/defenses.
  • Wraith (Stargate: Atlantis): spaceships are living beings, computers are essentially creatures with nerves/neurons acting as wires/processors, weapons are energy-based, but likely bioengineered similar to the rest of their tech. They use bio-engineering to create useful tools, but also use the Ancients' technology as a basis I beleive.
  • Xindi, reptilians (Star Trek: Enterprise): I mostly mention this only because of the one episode of Enterprise where Reid/Tucker/Phlox open a Xindi weapon and find a maggot-like thing that generates the power for it. I don't know what they mostly do, I'm just remembering from one episode.

Those are just a few I can think of off the top of my head.

Something you may want to try is:

  1. Think of a target concept the Zaux would need (i.e. wepons)
  2. Think "what can be used as a weapon?" (i.e. solid projectiles, energy, chemicals)
  3. Think "what in our world can do stuff like this?" (i.e. we can throw things, snakes make/spit venom, eels generate electrical fields)
  4. Take those ideas to the extreme (i.e. combine the pistol shrimp's crazy claw thing with a solid object like a quill/stinger or venom to shoot it at enemies, or an eel's electrical field generation to either power a weapon or to generate an electric shock as a weapon)

That could help you build a species that people will think "wow, that's plausible for a futuristic species to develop because earthly creatures already do that!" about.

As for generic advancements, bio-engineering is very broad. Near-future advancements could be things like creating bio-armour that utilizes a chameleon's camouflage, or an eel's electrical field for power generation, or even plant photosynthesis (takes care of air-recycling, too). Far-future advancements could be similar to the Yuuzhan Vong, with the ability to design an entirely new species with a singular purpose (i.e. a snake-like thing that crawls down your throat while leaving a starfish-like ending over your mouth/nose that inhales things from the starfish thing and exhales oxygen/nitrogen combination from the part in your throat to allow breathing in extreme environments... creepy, but effective).

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I think biotech is in such a state of infancy, that there won't be much we can guess based off it at present. Unless you want to have truly terrible viruses, we're good at making those. Or say, glowing sheep.

Centuries ahead is also hard to say. By then, we might see carbon nanotube lifeforms able to smash through brick walls like super heroes. You might be better to think of known limitations of biotech and make some adjustments based off breakthroughs your aliens have made. The obvious limitation is that the creature is growing these aspects, it needs all the nutrition and elements involved in them, and if you make use of exotic materials the creatures needs to somehow be able to digest and process those.

For example, if they worked out how to make more efficient muscle fibers, so they can make a human twice as strong, that can allow for some creature designs that would be too heavy or slow. Of course, you would also want a discovery in stronger skeletons, so they can utilize that greater strength without breaking their bones.

The obvious one is being stronger, or faster, or smarter, or more durable, or whatever, and just doing the same things better. A stronger man can carry a more powerful gun and more armour. Beyond that, I'm afraid there's too little information and too many possibilities.

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  • $\begingroup$ I now desperately want to read a story where someone uses glowing sheep as a weapon! :-) $\endgroup$ – DrBob Oct 23 '16 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @DrBob Something like this, maybe? youtube.com/watch?v=a_HRor5EyWk $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 23 '16 at 18:43
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Given their society, I can imagine these creatures are pretty damn ruthless in their application of force. A lot of our war fighting technology is deliberately limited or designed to destroy the enemy's own warfighting tech. Weapons like flamethrowers, napalm, chemical weapons, radiological weapons, etc, are uncommon, not because they're ineffective, but because they're horrible. They're designed to kill people in terrible, indiscriminate, and painful ways, so humans recoil from the idea of using them.

The zaux are unlikely to have that kind of squeamishness. That opens a lot of rather horrible avenues.

At the low tech end:

The Bombardier beetle has a remarkable defence mechanism, which combines two harmless chemicals in its abdomen to create a caustic, boiling hot mixture which it squirts out of its body at predators. A similar weapon could be imagined which creates napalm from precursor chemicals, and/or converts phosphorus into white phosphorous. It would be hard to beat at short ranges.

A more extreme possibility could be an organic railgun. A railgun works by running electrical current (which can be generated organically) along a conductive rail (this could be made from iron, copper, or other metals that can be absorbed organically), through a metal slug (ditto), and down another rail on the other side, and it can generate some truly fantastic speeds. The biggest problem we have with railguns right now is that the rails wear out very quickly, a problem that could easily be solved in a biological system that could just regrow the parts.

The downside to any kind of organic technology, of course, is that it's not easy to carry large amounts of ammo. You can't just strap on a backpack with another couple of magazines, so each soldier would need downtime between battles to replenish their ammunition supplies. Or, alternatively, they could be grown, sent into battle once, use up their ammo, then throw themselves at the enemy with melee weapons. After the battle, the survivors could then be eaten by the next generation of grubs.

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Considering they are similar to the Mantis Shrimp, the first thing that comes to mind in terms of weapons is their cousin the Pistol Shrimp's claw for ranged combat (They could improve the design to increase efficacy). For melee engagements larger claws (possibly strengthened by coating them in metal) as well as well as chitin blades grown/mounted on the arms. Another common mod would be tougher and/or lighter exoskeletons depending on the individual's role (soldier, builder, scout), coupled with denser muscle mass in required areas. Some shrimp can also change their pigmentation for camouflage, so this too would be a commonly used augmentation.

These are not too far fetched as the should not be intrusive to the Zaux biology and can be shed if need be. This is assuming they are also biologically similar to the mantis shrimp.

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    $\begingroup$ Anything faintly similar to an intelligent mantis shrimp is terrifying all by itself... $\endgroup$ – Andreas Heese Oct 21 '16 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ Most definitively. Coupled with rapid evolution you have the basic recipe for Warhammer 40k's Tyranids or StarCraft Zerg. Actually even the bugs from Starship Troopers. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Oct 21 '16 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ I would also add Starship Troopers to the list :) Bugs are well developed on their own field of applied evolution. While it can be tough job to watch all 3 parts, they give good base for far developed creatures. $\endgroup$ – Sonic Oct 21 '16 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ Of course in Starship Troopers, biotechnology is met with some good, old fashioned, technology in the form of hand held nuclear rocket launchers carried by the MI (in the book, Johnny Rico is issued one once he achieves the rank of corporal!). I'll also question the statement "No one makes or consumes things that aren't needed", because in a market economy, nothing is made unless there is a perceived need somewhere. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 21 '16 at 14:35
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Biology is one route to understanding and bootstrapping nanotechnology. They may be in the process of developing general nanobots—utility goo that can do anything or become anything. Before that, bacteria modified with novel metabolic pathways to do any chemestry and nanofabrication: not programmable but built for each purpose.

Weaponizable? Oh yea. Disease targeted to the enemy; swarms that invade and disassemble the enemy resources; reprogram indigenous life forms to be bombs or produce toxins.

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well they can do basically everything that our technology can do and much more. Wide range of weapon from claws and teeth, to tusk, poison darts, acid spray, even magma, or biological virus, or even they can spread virus that make the victim to be their army with hive minds. Eels use electricity as their defense, so if their evolution is so advance they can supposedly do what our technology can do, maybe they can even do an emp attack, read radio signals, or atomic fusion for bombs and their bio thruster. They also can have a flies that act as their drones, a strong carapace to even protect them from magma heat and projectiles.

Not to mention you can also add some X-men likes ability, maybe their evolutionary process are so harsh that makes them can briefly stopped time or see the future. While an instant regeneration would be nice for them to have. And also a very survival evolutionary process can make them developed a hyper adaptability, so if they usually breath nitrogen, in minutes after they arrive on earth they would have adapt to breath oxygen and eat our food. Dangerous chemicals will do no harm.

Next question is how can you kill a civilizations with creatures like this?

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Ammo

Homing Bullets. Flying insects with pistol shrimp-like claws that find a victim and fly upwards in a parabola. At the peak, they start gliding downwards slowly, and use the pistol shrimp hammer-claws to launch themselves forward and shoot into their target like a bullet, cutting their spinal cord.

Melee

Blunt bony hammer-like tools with claws on either side to destroy enemy craft. Stinging nettles the size of swords with deadly neurotoxins in the needles.

Explosives

Witch hazel-like plants that explode on contact, with the force of a megaton of TNT.

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