Today’s Star Trek: Discovery update includes some scientific nitpicking, a webcomic reaction to the profanity, a producer weighing in on Q homage, and more behind the scenes shots from the most recent episode.
Discovery DNA science under scrutiny
Star Trek has always prided itself by having one foot in science and another in fiction. Discovery has tried to strike that balance while introducing some new elements, some of which are now being questioned by some scientists. First up we have the Evolution Institute which has a feature titled “How Star Trek: Discovery Gets Genetics Wrong, But Is Still Worth Watching Anyway.” The main issue is how Discovery appears to be using outdated information about the genetic makeup of real tardigrades.
“Like its microscopic cousins on Earth, the tardigrade is able to incorporate foreign DNA into its own genome,” says Discovery‘s protagonist, Michael Burnham. She’s all but quoting popular science headlines from 2015, when a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill reported sequencing a tardigrade genome and finding that about 1/6 of the sequence had been acquired from other organisms, mostly bacteria. Horizontal gene transfer isn’t unheard of in animals, but not to anywhere near that extent. Genome sequencing can easily pick up DNA sequences from contaminants — and a tardigrade, like other animals, contains plenty of live and active bacteria with their own un-horizontally-transferred DNA code. The UNC team took some effort to differentiate genuinely HGT’d genetic code from contamination, but the latter is still the more parsimonious explanation. And, indeed, other researchers re-analyzed the raw data and collected new sequences of their own and found that HGT’d DNA accounted for at most two percent of a tardigrade genome — about what’s been seen in other animals.
In an article for Forbes titled “New ‘Star Trek’ Series Makes Massive Science Blunder,” Johns Hopkins University Professor of Biomedical Engineering Steven Salzberg seems almost livid over this, noting:
The idea of using horizontally transferred DNA for space travel is so nutty, so bad, that it’s not even wrong. Even if tardigrades could absorb foreign DNA (they can’t), how the heck is this supposed to give them the ability to tap into the (wildly implausible) intergalactic spore network? DNA that’s been taken up through HGT isn’t connected to the source any longer. This is no more plausible than asserting that people could connect to the mushroom network by eating a plate of mushrooms. And how would the space-traveling tardigrade take the entire ship with it? Are we supposed to assume it’s creating some kind of mushroom-DNA field?
The F-bomb heard around the world inspires web comic and Rapp’s defense
The fifth episode of Star Trek: Discovery made big news around the world for dropping the first f-bomb in franchise history. The historic event also caught the attention of the popular webcomic strip at Penny Arcade, which today dedicated a strip to envisioning an even more profanity-laden USS Discovery.
And in a new interview with Nerdist, Anthony Rapp spoke about the moment proudly, saying
“We were aware of it. We were very aware that, ‘Yeah, this is the first one.’ If you’re going to drop the F-bomb on Star Trek, make sure you drop it during a scientific breakthrough! It’s a word that’s been around since the time of Shakespeare, so why wouldn’t it be around in a couple hundred years time?”
Sullivan confirms Q reference, shares more BTS
As noted by a number of fans (and in the TrekMovie review) Mudd’s calling Lorca “mon capitaine” in Sunday’s episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” appeared to be an homage to the Star Trek: The Next Generation character Q. Discovery co-executive producer Ted Sullivan took to Twitter confirmed this it is true.
And in the last couple of days, Ted has also followed up with a number of behind the scenes shots he took from the set during the shooting of “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” Here are some highlights.
DIY disco boots
A couple of weeks ago TrekMovie ran a feature on real world things you can buy that are used on board the USS Discovery. Included in that was Toronto shoemaker Sully Wong, who made the boots for the Starfleet Uniforms. The Sully Wong designers were on the Canadian show InnerSpace to talk about their designs and to show fans how they can make their own Disco boots.
More Disco Bits
Here are a few more quick links with what some other sites are saying about Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusive in the US on CBS All Access with new episodes released Sundays at 8:30 pm ET. In Canada Star Trek: Discovery airs on the Space Channel at the same time. Discovery is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada with new episodes made available Monday at 8 am BST.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.