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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
    Join Date
    Feb 2019

    Default Electrically-powered living organisms?

    So I've been thinking of somethings. I.e. transmission of energy through a living organism. I.e. the transmission of blood, the entire respiratory and circulatory system, red blood cells, etc, along with all the sugars and such required. The blood serves multiple functions, one of which is to transport glucose and oxygen for respiration, so that other organs can work.

    I've been thinking: What about using electricity and wires to transport energy through an organism, instead of blood? I don't certainly mean to every single piece of tissue, but there's a 'yeah, enough to keep this alive' and 'ok, we have bioelectricity to supplement the main organ system, with specialized systems meant to turn electricity into chemical energy'. There's already an ATP system that is powered by electron flow, so there's already a biological analogue.

    Main usage of the circulatory system would be a source of biomass and feedstock for things like cellular repair, vital molecules that can't be made on-site, but not for energy. Wires would transport it, hypothetically using organic materials and proteins (biology can be weird like that) or instead by copper taken in and used as a material from copper rich environments and sheathed in insulating materials. Things like obtaining energy from food via respiration in centralized and specialized organs within the center of the torso, while the energy obtained is then sent through the organic wires to other sections of the body.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Troll in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jan 2007

    Default Re: Electrically-powered living organisms?

    There are a few problems with that idea.

    A big one is a huge loss in efficiency as converting chemical energy to electricity and then back will result in a huge loss. Keeping things as chemicals all the way is better as there are fewer reaction in the whole chain and it is actually easier to transport chemicals without loss than a current.

    Biological system will not be able to create wires with any decent conductivity, which will result in a huge energy loss. Moreover, the wires going in and out will inevitably be really close to each other so insulation becomes an issue - it either is not good enough to prevent leaks, ot too thick for practical purposes. Quite hard to get a good design here.
    In a war it doesn't matter who's right, only who's left.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    Aug 2020

    Default Re: Electrically-powered living organisms?

    Maybe it could work with some "solar-panel" skin that produce electricity that then is moved via cables over the body. Of course this leaves the problem of storage of that energy which is quite of a challenge and probably as Radar points-out is inefficient. But then on a Tatooine-like planet with 3 suns that almost have no night and clouds maybe this could work, with let's say 3 hours of darkness that can wipe out almost all live, and now 1-in-milenium event happens when suns are all going to set for a night together....

    Oh and I think nerve system can pretty much qualify as transmission of energy through a living organism.
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  4. - Top - End - #4
    Troll in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jan 2007

    Default Re: Electrically-powered living organisms?

    Quote Originally Posted by asda fasda View Post
    Maybe it could work with some "solar-panel" skin that produce electricity that then is moved via cables over the body. Of course this leaves the problem of storage of that energy which is quite of a challenge and probably as Radar points-out is inefficient. But then on a Tatooine-like planet with 3 suns that almost have no night and clouds maybe this could work, with let's say 3 hours of darkness that can wipe out almost all live, and now 1-in-milenium event happens when suns are all going to set for a night together....
    Or... you could skip the electricity production step and synthesize chemicals directly using the light as an energy source. Just an idea.

    We (as humanity) actually also tinker with photochemical reactors and there are some promising ideas out there. Not good enough for commercial use yet, but I think we will get there.

    Quote Originally Posted by asda fasda View Post
    Oh and I think nerve system can pretty much qualify as transmission of energy through a living organism.
    In a sense yes, but it is transported through ions, so not something you would ever use to transmit power.
    In a war it doesn't matter who's right, only who's left.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Imp

    Join Date
    Jan 2019

    Default Re: Electrically-powered living organisms?

    Quote Originally Posted by Radar View Post
    There are a few problems with that idea.

    A big one is a huge loss in efficiency as converting chemical energy to electricity and then back will result in a huge loss. Keeping things as chemicals all the way is better as there are fewer reaction in the whole chain and it is actually easier to transport chemicals without loss than a current.

    Biological system will not be able to create wires with any decent conductivity, which will result in a huge energy loss. Moreover, the wires going in and out will inevitably be really close to each other so insulation becomes an issue - it either is not good enough to prevent leaks, ot too thick for practical purposes. Quite hard to get a good design here.
    Inefficiency is less of an issue than you might think, because there is already some chemistry required for many foodstuffs to be turned into something that you can have going through your blood and used anywhere. Cells can't just get energy from 'chemicals', they need to be quite specific. Conversion of something into ATP then to glucose in the liver, and then back to ATP in other cells is quite common. Using electricity as an intermediate step is inefficient, but it will often be replacing another intermediate step that is also inefficient.

    Conductivity is hard to get to a level we would call good compared to metals, but for a small animal shouldn't be too much of a problem. A standard electrical cable is capable of transmitting the energy of 10 people with almost no losses, so there are massive margins available before transmission efficiency becomes a deal breaker. Conductive Polymers do exist, but more importantly resistive films are easy for life to manufacture. Life is great at doing things like 'apply a uniform thickness to this funny shape', and the lower conductivity of the wires would prevent shorts causing the same massive damage they do with metals, especially if cells are able to detect injury and shut down regions of conductor (hard for us to manufacture, easy for life). Most of our insulation is massive overkill, because it needs to be able to withstand mechanical damage that will stay damaged. To hold mains voltage (230V) you only actually need 10 micro-meters of rubber. That is the sort of scale that individual cells can work with.

    I don't know of any multicellular life that uses electricity so directly, but microbes have been discovered that do, so it is not entirely far fetched.

    As for whether it would evolve, I can't think of a case where it would. Nutrients need a system for transmission around the body anyway, and blood flow has an important role in thermal regulation too, so an electric creature would still need a similar circulatory system. There is no reason not to transfer energetic molecules with the same system. The only reason I can find to use electricity as an energy source is because it is already there and you are a stationary microbe.

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