Would Earth plants grow in alien soil?
June 1, 2011 7:38 PM Subscribe
Suppose there were another Earth-like planet with an Earth-like ecosystem, but evolved totally separately from Earth's. Am I right in suspecting that we would almost certainly not be able to digest any of its plants or animals and vice versa? If we were to bring our own plants, could they grow in the soil?
posted by jacobm to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is a question that has been bugging me for a long time. Sadly my biology skills are high-school level at best, so I don't trust my own answers at all. My thinking is that Earth animals couldn't eat alien plants or animals, but that Earth plants could grow in alien soil.
I suspect that we wouldn't be able to eat the plants or animals because there's no reason to think the aliens would use the same set of amino acids we do, right? I am definitely hazy on how things work at that level, but my understanding is that the particular amino acids that humans care about derives at some very low level from the universal genetic code, and that there's no reason to suspect that alien DNA would use the same coding scheme. Thus we couldn't count on our digestive systems being able to use (and/or not be killed by) the acids produced in alien biology.
Plants seem like a different case to me, though. Seems to me that plants wouldn't be counting on particular acids being available in the soil, and they'd be working more directly with minerals in the alien soil, which would presumably be similar to the minerals in Earth soil. So they could grow normally, and then we could eat those plants just as though they'd been grown on Earth.
Does any of that sound plausible?