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I have to feed my dinosaurs, the plants in the land are mostly destroyed, but the ocean is almost "untouched", so of course, I'm gonna feed my feathery friends with a lot of algae, specially made by me through my ways of gene splicing. As a responsible scientist I've committed every single sin of science.

Physical Requirements of the Algae:

  • First and foremost, it supposed to have advanced photo-;chemo-;radio?-; and electrosynthesis
  • Second, it must be tasty :)
  • Thirdly, it should grow as fast as possible.
  • Fourth and lastly, I want to create a special barrier to stop its growth, so it only populates a manageable area.

Just how realistic is to put all these different ways of creating biomass and chemical energy into a single species, and would it increase their growth speed? If yes, then how much?

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  • $\begingroup$ I downvoted your question because the unnecessary profanities make my eyes sore... $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Apr 6 '17 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ I upvoted your question because the unnecessary profanities make my heart swell... $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Apr 6 '17 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ So I'll try to give you a serious post later, but I did want to ask about your fourth requirement. Keeping life inside a boundary for long durations is tough. How long do you intent to feed your dinos? As Alan Grant found out, and Ian Malcom knew all along, "nature finds a way." $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Apr 6 '17 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ "it must be tasty" - taste is like beauty, it depends on whom you ask; that is: tasty according to whom? Dogs, pigs and millions of insects eat feces, several types of animals eat rotten carcasses, and they all seem to think it's tasty.... $\endgroup$ – Mrkvička Apr 6 '17 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ I edited your question to remove profanity. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Apr 7 '17 at 9:27
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Plants and algae use photosynthesis because there is by far more energy in sunlight than in cosmic rays or radioactive radiation; "by far" means many orders of magnitude. (You may have noticed that in most places most of the time there a dearth of alpha, beta and gamma rays...) Chemosynthesis, when available, is of course much much more efficient than photosynthesis; living beings which use chemosynthesis are usually called fungi or animals: they eat plants and algae. In your example, the algae will do the photosynthesis and the dinos will do the chemosynthesis.

Concrete numbers for algal dry biomass production vary widely, but as far as I can easily find they top out at about 0.6 g/L/day or 0.16 g/m²/day. (I would love to see better numbers.) For comparison, plain old boring wheat produces 5 to 7 tonnes/hectare/year, which translates to 1.4 to 1.9 g/m²/day, and maize (which is called corn in the U.S.A.) is about 1.5 times more productive. Algae have the advantage that they don't required arable land and that their cultivation is more amenable to automation; but they are far from being productivity demons.

You may have to do some serious genetic engineering to increase the productivity of the algae, because at present algae are simply not a serious competitor to cereals.

Containment is very highly species-specific and place-specific. Algae grow in water; if, for example, your production facility is in the middle of the Sahara I don't expect containment to be very difficult, provided you take care to avoid having dry spores exposed to high winds. After all, the world is not choking under a continuous biomass of algae... I'd say that inventing elaborate containment schemes is one of the fun parts of writing science-fiction; they don't have to be completely specified in engineering detail, unless needed by the action; protocols, UV scans, filters, chambers with negative pressure etc. come to mind.

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(I know you tagged this science based but...)

I recommend breeding a natural stockpile of wholesome Schmoes!

Schmoo!

  • They reproduce asexually and are incredibly prolific, multiplying exponentially faster than rabbits. They require no sustenance other than air.
  • Shmoos are delicious to eat, and are eager to be eaten. If a human looks at one hungrily, it will happily immolate itself — either by jumping into a frying pan, after which they taste like chicken, or into a broiling pan, after which they taste like steak. When roasted they taste like pork, and when baked they taste like catfish. (Raw, they taste like oysters on the half-shell.)
  • They also produce eggs (neatly packaged), milk (bottled, grade-A), and butter—no churning required. Their pelts make perfect bootleather or house timber, depending on how thick one slices it.
  • They have no bones, so there's absolutely no waste. Their eyes make the best suspender buttons, and their whiskers make perfect toothpicks. In short, they are simply the perfect ideal of a subsistence agricultural herd animal.
  • Naturally gentle, they require minimal care, and are ideal playmates for young children. The frolicking of shmoon is so entertaining (such as their staged "shmoosical comedies") that people no longer feel the need to watch television or go to the movies.
  • Some of the more tasty varieties of shmoo are more difficult to catch. Usually shmoo hunters, now a sport in some parts of the country, utilize a paper bag, flashlight and stick to capture their shmoos. At night the light stuns them, then they can be whacked in the head with the stick and put in the bag for frying up later on.

So they're not technically algae. They are sentient. But when I looked at your list of requirements, it seemed like such a perfect match!

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's a blast from the past. +1 $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Apr 6 '17 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat When I thought, that I had a fucked up childhood with watching Bleach and Ghost in the Shell as an 8 year old kid, I still have to find that episode with the awesome spidertank. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Apr 6 '17 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted, what I watch as an 8 year old was Space Ghost and the Herculoids. Wasn't the spider tank in the OVA? $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Apr 6 '17 at 23:07
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It is not very convenient to include several different ways to produce chemical energy into one organism. On the cellular level, this will entail different metabolic pathways, that may even intervene each other. Better to focus on one method and streamline that one.

Furthermore, your algae (almost) already exists:

Brown algae have the fastest linear growth of any organism on this plant. The record holder is M. pyrifera. Unfortunately they are restricted to shallow waters as they need to attach to bottom substrate. However, there are Sargassum species, which have a complete free-floating (=pelagic) life cycle: for example S. natans. The goal for your scientist is now to alter the Sargassum species to inherit the insane growth rates of M. pyrifera! And just like that you have a super-growing algae that you can grow without further restrictions in any water tank. These species reproduce only by fragmentation, so no need to be scared about spore contamination.

Even without genetically growth enhancement the Sargassum algae today produces crazy amounts of biomass, look at this article: http://en.mercopress.com/2015/08/19/sargassum-seaweed-greatest-single-threat-to-the-caribbean-tourism-industry

PS: If you don't want to grow them in tanks, why not manufacture a huge ocean gyre that traps your enhanced Sargassum in one place, building a huge natural Sargassum farm? Oh wait...

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A very unsound plan

So basically you want to create monoculture — an invasive monoculture even — that is growing outside your control (yes, point 4, I know... I will be coming to that).

This is a very, very bad idea.

"Biodiversity" is not just a fancy buzzword being thrown around for giggles or for marketing ideologies. Biodiversity is essential to prevent the sort of thing that the planet has suffered: an ecological crash. Throwing out an invasive species into a biome usually ends very badly.

Yes I know that point number 4 said you wanted to have a barrier, to prevent this sort of thing. Well the problem with this is that you only need one breach, and then you have — potentially — wrecked the planet.

Yes, if you do everything perfectly right, you might be able to get away with it. You have, after all, created dinosaurs. But since you have then — obviously — read/watched Jurassic Park, then you know that "life finds a way". Even when you think you have disabled Murphy's Law by removing the physical possibility to make an error...

"You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will... breed?"

...you know that this may very well go wrong.

enter image description here

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If you want to contain the algae, you need to remove it's ability to produce airborne spores. Currently, algae gets everywhere. To test, get a container with the most pure water available and leave it open and in the sun. If it doesn't evaporate first, it will turn green. This may or may not work in the heart of a desert that is far from any water source (I don't know how far the little buggers can travel on the wind).

Growing fast and being tasty may be mutually exclusive. It takes time to produce the complex sugars and other chemicals that taste good. Also, variety is a part of taste. You would need different batches of algae with different flavor profiles. Additionally, different creatures prefer different flavors. Alternatively, you can just add chemicals for flavor at the end.

For fast growth, shallow water with a white or light colored bottom to maximize the amount of light the algae gets. The light bottom reflects the light that gets through the algae back up. Currently, people are growing algae in horizontal, transparent tubes with curved reflectors to reflect sunlight to all sides of the tube.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well actually, I was more interested in whether putting the most awesome synthesis into the soup is possible and feasible or not. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Apr 6 '17 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Think of eating your favorite meal. Now, think about eating it for every meal, every day. Even if someone has a sweet tooth, if they work in a candy store, they will eventually not be able to stand the sight of the stuff. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Apr 6 '17 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Neither zebras, horses or dinosaurs are concerned about eating grass or leaves all day long. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Apr 6 '17 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ To be honest, my dogs don't care either $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Apr 6 '17 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted, I suppose so. I guess I just have more refined tastes than a horse. Not by much, mind you, but I take my victories where I can. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Apr 6 '17 at 23:09

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