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Michael Crichton's 1969 science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain and the 1971 film of the same name ficticiously describe/depict a Phantom F-4 where a biological agent recovered from a satellite and subsequently mutated degrades and destroys rubber-like materials in the aircraft including the pilot's oxygen mask, and eventually the pilot as well.

In this clip from the film an expert at the site of the crash says:

There is no actual rubber on the phantom F-4 general. It’s all a synthetic plastic compound called “polychron”. It has some of the characteristics of human skin.

In the beginning of the film the organism would only crystallize the blood of human (and other animals) leaving the victim dead but without other outward visible signs (except for the scene near the beginning where one of the scientists checks one seated victim for "settling" of blood in the buttocks.)

What exactly happened that caused the organism to be able to become so destructive to synthetic rubber and plastic and human flesh?

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    You've already answered this. It's mutating constantly. First it attacks blood, then it attacks rubber, then it evolves into a non-lethal strain
    – Valorum
    Oct 23, 2019 at 8:09
  • @Valorum yes but was some explanation given for why or how, or was it just hmm... it mutates. I remember now that perhaps it was a plot device necessary for the monkey-shooting-laser scene (don’t want to write a spoiler) but was there something described that induced the mutation?
    – uhoh
    Oct 23, 2019 at 9:31
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    Nothing drove the mutation, it just mutates continuously throughout the film.
    – Valorum
    Oct 23, 2019 at 9:33
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    @DwightEricShackelford I've converted your post from an answer to a comment, please take a look at what James K and galactic ninja are suggesting. Share and Enjoy!
    – AncientSwordRage
    Oct 27, 2023 at 9:42

1 Answer 1

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In short, the 'strain' mutates on multiple occasions, seemingly at random, but each time in rapid response to the prevailing conditions under which it finds itself;

  • It starts off as an infectious agent, rapidly killings its hosts but finding more and more people to infect.

  • When there are no more people to infect, it starts to eat synthetic polymers with very similar properties to human skin.

    “Well, no rubber was used in this airplane. It was all a synthetic plastic compound. Newly developed by Ancro; they’re quite proud of it. It’s a polymer that has some of the same characteristics as human tissue. Very flexible, lots of applications.”

    The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

  • After it runs out of polymer to eat, it moves to rubber, a substance very similar to the polymer, digesting the seals in the facility.

  • It escapes the (oxygen-rich) facility, presumably by decreasing its size, along with its lethality, which may be related, and goes up into the atmosphere.

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  • Yes. In comparison, HIV-1 has one of the highest known rates of mutation, amounting to about 3 percent per reproductive cycle. And it reproduces very rapidly. The result is that the "mutation rate is a critical parameter for understanding viral evolution and has important practical implications. For instance, the estimate of the mutation rate of HIV-1 demonstrated that any single mutation conferring drug resistance should occur within a single day" (Sanjuan et al. 2010; Journal of Virology 84:9733-9748, jvi.asm.org/content/84/19/9733). The Andromeda Strain mutates even faster. Oct 23, 2019 at 16:33

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