Clay Theory
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Basic Information

Clay Theory is a concept of abiogenesis - a possible way by which life may have begun.

Though you might not guess it from a look at a lump of wet clay, like any silicate, clay is made up of crystals. Crystals can 'grow and accumulate out of solutions, and generally once a crystal formation starts to take on a shape, it continues to grow along that same pattern.

Now let's say you have two different crystal patterns, one of which results in a stickier clay that has more or better ways to get stuck on other substances, microscopic forms that latch on to other molecules. A landslide or other geologic activity dumps a sample of each into a river. The non-sticky crystals wash out to the ocean and are lost. The sticky ones catch on the riverbank, and start accumulating and growing. They build up into a clay deposit. Then a dry season hits, and the river lies empty for a while. The clay dries out, cracks, and is blown by the wind. Most of these airborne flakes still have the same microscopic crystalline structure as the mother deposit. They land in other waters, accumulate and form more clay beds based on the same crystalline structure. Though completely inorganic and definitely not alive, the clays are undergoing a form of natural selection that causes the stickiest clays to become the most widespread arrangements.

Now, let's say one of the things the clay sticks to is early amino acids of the ancient Earth. It creates a complex lattice of clay and amino acids, which undergo these same processes and spread across the planet. The amino acids are accumulated and concentrated, in patterns, that, thanks to the clay crystals gathering them up, are getting replicated and organized. Just as the clay was selected for the stickiest versions, the amino patterns are selected for ones that can clump with themselves or with the clay. The tangled amino acids form a protein. This happens billions of times across the globe. The proteins experience the same natural selection, until ones that can clump with themselves predominate. These tangled nests of proteins are the first cells. Eventually natural selection favors the ones who can replicate themselves, and exist in the absence of the clay that first gave them shape. In a nutshell, that's clay theory.



Game and Story Use

  • One of the cool implications of it is that abiogenesis could be going on today, right under our noses. If Clay Theory is true, it doesn't require extreme conditions like a primordial soup with lightning strikes to make life happen. See also shadow life and shadow biosphere.
  • In a sci-fi game, this may happen more overtly.
    • Seems like a good match for silicon based life. The clay itself becomes life, instead of just provoking life to form.
    • There may be an alien whose life cycle includes some time as a sessile animal attached to a clay substrate.
    • Maybe the river is seeded with organic matter by wastes or dumped into it.
  • This has several ramifications for Earth Elementals, Clay Golems, and similar critters in a fantasy setting.
    • Your typical construct could have a new form of life assembling on it's surface. Sure, there's no flowing river in this scenario, but there is magic - which is probably better. New bacteria, slimes and oozes may form on or within them. A blob-covered golem could be pretty nasty.
    • Why waste expensive spell components building a whole bunch of golems? You can make one, dump it in the river, and grow an army for cheap.
      • Provided, of course, they don't get pissed at what you did to them.
    • If an elemental is destroyed, it might not actually be the end of it. You smite it into dust, and scatter it to the wind. A year later, new golems or elementals sprout in all the nearby rivers. This may lead to Sorceror's Apprentice scenario (remember the army of animated brooms?), or (since natural selection is in the picture) even a new intelligent race of river-dwelling golems.
  • In a game with precursors and lost technology, it turns out the lost civilization had worked out clay theory. The various myths about the gods making mankind from lumps of clay are all that survived of this biological theory. :)
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