Submitted by TheGreatDaiamid t3_z86nxm in askscience

So everyone knows the old debate about universal solvents (and how, logically, they'd be impossible to handle or store - by definition, such substances would dissolve any container). But is there any singular substance that causes harm or kills every known lifeform?



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rootofallworlds t1_iye7ey4 wrote

I would be very surprised if any creature resists chlorine trifluoride. That stuff will set materials such as concrete, sand, and asbestos on fire upon contact and reacts explosively with water. Teflon and some metals resist attack by ClF3, the metals by the formation of a surface metal fluoride layer, and neither are found in known lifeforms to my knowledge.

Dioxygen difluoride is also up there. It's nicknamed "FOOF" for a reason, blowing up on contact with solid ethanol, liquid methane, and water ice to name a few.

There are acidophile and alkaliphile organisms, but I suspect superacids would destroy all known life too.

Outside the realm of chemistry a high enough temperature, intense enough ionising radiation, or extremely strong magnetic fields will destroy all known molecules whether living or not. (In the magnetic field case, this is way beyond anything we can produce on Earth, but neutron stars will do it.)


speculatrix t1_iyde1cv wrote

If you could create a universal solvent which could be magnetised, you could suspend it in a magnetic field.

You'd still need to stop it absorbing the air and things in the air. Maybe you could suspend it in a vacuum, provided the magnetic containment could stop it evaporating?


dirtballmagnet t1_iydg6xt wrote

It was long ago and probably garbage when I read about it, but it's worth looking into plutonium. It's apparently deadly in many more ways than mere radiation.

It's also a heavy metal and can cause heavy metal poisoning. But it's also apparently a super-deadly toxin on its own, like arsenic. According to the throwaway article I read in Parade in about 1986, a handful of it properly distributed could poison all of humanity.


DudoVene t1_iydgy2z wrote

hi. life remains on storing information (DNA) and usage of this information (protein synthesis) in order to replicate itself in a newer generation.

consequently, a lot of "biocide" we use in medecine target DNA replication or protein synthesis. Another way is to disturb the wall cell (or viral capside) that will make the cell content spread out and make managing DNA or proteins impossible. Ability of a drug to kill a bacteria and not the human carrying it often rely on the ability of the molecule to pass through cell wall and reach its target (so the molecule will enter bacteria cytoplasm and stay out of human cells).

that is for the "chemical agent". strong acid or strong alkali, some chemical reagent (lets say phenol for instance) are able to at least disturb any cell wall and lead to death. they are non selective agent so could be your answer.

there is also of course "physical agent" like electromagnetic wave in UV. they have ability to travel through tissues and break the DNA. Eukaryotic cells have strong mechanism to fix broken DNA but the final result will be a balance between UV exposure and fixing speed.

others waves stronger than UV (X ray, cosmic ray, and for close reasons radioactivity) can act the same on DNA and so are very dangerous to any living beings. keep in mind without the ozone layer around earth, UVs emitted by the sun make life impossible to earth.


speculatrix t1_iydm7zg wrote

Tardigrades entered the chat, and doing their bit to be indestructible.