Scientists Dispute ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ DNA + Webcomic Takes On The Profanity

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 The main issue is how Discovery appears to be using outdated information about the genetic makeup of real tardigrades.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?

Scientists are actually nitpicking this

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.

Penny Arcade webcomic takes on Discovery profanity

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?”

Anthony Rapp is fucking proud of this moment

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.

Inverse: Why ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Isn’t that Dark.

Screenrant: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Should Be Set In The Kelvin Timeline.

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.

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And people think Trek fans take it too seriously. Those scientists should lighten up.

LOL, they’d fit right in here

This article should be titled “Scientist makes massive blunder by forgetting the fiction part of science-fiction”

@Victorinox – hahaha no kidding!! At least Trek based their science off of a realistic foundation. Is still a fictional endeavor and must be granted creative license.

You need to understand the difference between Science-fiction & Science-fantasy


Blame the Fans? It’s the show that is faulty cause it uses faulty Science already disputed.

It’s a grand Trek tradition. They used faulty, debunked science in TWOK & in TNG, to name only two instances. For TNG it was memory RNA (at least that was one instance), TWOK of course had the impossible nebula.

Who cares,

Re: impossible nebula

I’ve already pointed out to you in previous discussions that it all depends on the nebula. If it was a lightning discharging, which the film depicted and has now been astronomically observed as massive discharges in proto-planetary forming disks, there’d be many places in it to hide a starship with the most obvious being the trick they did with Regula 1’s planetoid.

Now if you want to talk impracticalities of TWoK, how about two heavily damaged starhips park at a perfectly functioning Regula 1 space station and neither one uses its functioning machine shops to expedite their repairs, or even canablize the station proper for parts? Kirk doesn’t even use Starfleet’s patented remote control to use Regula 1 to feed him tactical scans with which to dispatch Khan while in orbit or the nebula for that matter. Who needs a nebula hide-and-seek when you’ve got perfectly functioning Regula 1 sensors on the other side of the planetoid that you are hiding behind to guide your torpedoes right up Khan’s parked arse while you’re in orbit?

Or how about just rigging Regula 1 to blow since they knew Khan was returning to it?

What always made TWOk feel ridiculous is the fact that they couldn’t detect a planet probably billions of years old was not only destroyed but got it mixed up with its neighbor lol. They really could’t tell the planet they landed on was in the wrong orbit? TWOK was a good film but science wise it was very very loose I’ll put it that way.


What raised my hackles before the science blundering of the Ceti Alpha system was a very young Chekov was supposedly on the E at the time of their first confrontation with Khan and his deposit there. Even if Kirk kept it some sort of secret and forgot in his dotage, how could Chekov possibly forget and not have steered the Reliant clear of 79 or so potential threats there? Not to mention, no matter how perfect Ceti Alpha 6 could have possibly been for Genesis, just the danger of giving Khan and his minions a front row seat demonstration of The Federation’s cutting edge tech?

I mean if Kirk intended to keep Ceti Alpha 5’s colony a secret, he had to have something in their database to steer Starfleet away from it. How the heck did the Ceti Alpha System suddenly get on the Starfleet approved list for top secret experiments, maneuvers, war games, etc. after all those years?

The fact is that the writers didn’t do enough homework and consequently jumped a huge shark- straight into “Lost in Space” territory. It’s both funmy and sad.

What parts? You and they are speculating. 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? Answer: Sure, it’s Science Fiction. Or even better they connection to the network allows the tardigrade to tap into the navigation system of the ship and they’re off.

yes, they’re misunderstanding the tardigrade’s function. There’s still a bunch of (unspecified) tech that makes the drive work, remember the spore drive worked without a tardigrade, just in a limited capacity. The tardigrade is the navigator that handles the issues of the ever expanding probabilities of using spore travel to communicate how/where the drive system jumps to.


So stealing a brain is fine. Omnipotent beings are fine. Living forever in “ribbons” is fine.

Tardigrades? Nah, they didn’t do “homework”… FFS ppl.

If I am not mistaken, wouldn’t it be a fair characterization of the way that they are using the Tardigrade as “stealing” its brain?

I don’t think you know what ‘Jumping the shark’ means.

@Spock – exactly lol Although Im tempted to use that term now whenever someone here complains about something they didnt understand.

TUP, def: “Jump the Shark” see TV Tropes dot com

In truth, using the phrase “jumping the shark” itself jumped the shark a long time ago.

The fact they did SOME homework is great. its a fictional show. Also, you should review what “jumping the shark” means.

The fact is, you’re taking yourself and your hobby too seriously. Lighten up and get laid.

Star Trek isn’t a Joke. Discovery is.

In other words, you have no idea what the term “jumping the shark” means.

No, its just Sad.

I wish they’d gotten the science better myself. But, LOST IN SPACE territory, as in “The Great Vegetable Rebellion’s” giant carrot-man? Are you serious?

Sy-fy’s THE EXPANSE, which has touted its scientific bona fides to a far greater degree than Trek ever has, had an episode towards the end of its second season where the pilot plots a gravity-assist maneuver with Jupiter’s moons that lasts a few hours but in reality would have taken months. A few fans noted the error, the producers acknowledged it, and everyone moved on. It’s still a great show. What is it about Trek that produces these kind of hyperbolic responses?

We could say the same about transporters. Impossible.

And Vulcan/Human crossbreeding. Remember what Carl Sagan had to say about the likelihood of a Vulcan/Human breeding program producing Spock? I think it was something like, “you’d have a better chance if you bred a human with some local flora,” or words to that effect.

The horta could only exist in a non-oxygen environment, that’s the basis for silicone based life.

You can go on and on, Trek doesn’t get stuff right too often, but at least it seems to try (except in the post-TMP movies, which are all just looney-looney-looney with their science.)


You are aware that the first carbon-based life that evolved on the Earth, did so in an oxygen-free environment as well? It was only after it polluted it up with its poisonous to it free oxygen waste, that it’s descendants eventually, after millions of years, evolved a way to use it. Why are you so absolutely sure that once simple Silicon life kicked off that it absolutely could not eventually evolve to tolerate or even use its ancestors’ freed oxygen waste in some way?



noun: silicone; plural noun: silicones

any of a class of synthetic materials that are polymers with a chemical structure based on chains of alternate silicon and oxygen atoms, with organic groups attached to the silicon atoms. Such compounds are typically resistant to chemical attack and insensitive to temperature changes and are used to make rubber, plastics, polishes, and lubricants.


Note that silicone, itself, is a chain incorporating oxygen. So silicone based life must have some mechanism to deal with oxygen or else how does it incorporate it to form its polymer chains?

From POPULAR SCIENCE, not vouching for it, but the first thing that came up when I did a search about this in response to your post:
When silicon meets oxygen – whether it is floating through the air or in water – it will grab that oxygen and make silicates. These are compounds that contain silicon and oxygen and form most of the rocks and minerals on Earth. “As soon as you have oxygen with it or water…you have a rock and nothing is happening anymore,” Schulze-Makuch says.

And, while water is vital for life on Earth, silicon-based life would not be able to use it the same way. Its biochemistry would have to rely on another molecule (perhaps methane) for many of its functions.

“Silicon is all around but it’s tied up in rocks…with these very strong silicon-oxygen bonds that living systems would have to break in order to use silicon,” Arnold says. “And then once they did use silicon, maybe those compounds aren’t even stable under Earth conditions.”

So despite their similarities, silicon and carbon behave differently. “It’s not an identical replacement by any means,” Arnold says. “Life under normal conditions on this planet would probably not work with silicon.”


Since I already acknowledged that Silicon based life has to emerge from an oxygen free environment, you aren’t really moving the discussion of its possible evolutionary developments forward citing that article.

And you may recall that in our previous discussion of this topic I pointed out that despite the amount of silicon tied up in rocks on the Earth right now that its carbon based life Marine diatoms have evolved to extract silicon from seawater and incorporate it into its biology and still does.

Yes. Sagan was in fact pretty critical of Trek’s approach to science, though he did admit that it had its “occasional charm.” He didn’t much get rock and roll either (“Johnny B Goode” was included on the Voyager record only at the behest of his wife Ann Druyan, who loved the song). But he’s still a hero of mine.

Is that weird helmet another hint we may see Andorians at some point?

I do hope so!

Me too!

The scientists forgot to question the science of beaming people up, these scientists should get a life lol

Well, maybe in a few hundred years in the fictional Star Trek universe, the idea turns out to be correct after all.

Love the swearing. Real people swear. Makes Trek more realistic. Live long and F-bomb. 🖖🏾

A lot of people swear, a lot of people don’t.

Yeah…like on Star Trek itself. The great majority of the characters from TOS to Enterprise you never heard swear once. Only a handful ever do or did.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu all swore on multiple occassions, though they snuck some of Chekov’s in by using Russian. Will Riker was very fond of the phrase Dammit to Hell, Data, Geordi, Crusher, Picard, Janeway, Chakotay, etc etc. Rewatch the shows & films, nearly all of the characters swear.

Wow. A lot of apologists here. Yeah, the word fiction appears in science fiction. So does the word science. So maybe we should just move this into the full blown fiction category and drop the science all together so no one has to worry about standards.

In “Court Martial” James Kirk actually uses the phrase “one to the fourth power.” Since you were apparently unaware of this I can only, respectfully, suggest that you never watch an episode again.

You’re absolutely right. I want all references to data storage on Discovery revised to reflect micro-tapes. Analog, this digital thing is just a passing fad. It’s like, future, you know…

As long as the science is OK with Dr. Kayla, it’s OK with me.

Anthony Thompson,

Or until her pointy ears fall off. Everyone knows that when a Vulcan lies their pointy ears fall off.

Since my last impressions here a few weeks ago, I’ve waited to see a few more episodes before coming to my final conclusions about DISCOVERY – and basically, there is STILL no way whatsoever I will ever reconcile it as showing the ‘prequel events’ of the original TOS ‘Prime Timeline’ show and characters…no matter what the makers claim or intended, nor whatever anyone else here claims. Not ever.

And while I like to imagine/dismiss J.J.’s underwhelming ‘Kelvin Timeline’ movies as merely being ‘split off’ from an ‘alternate universe’ to the ‘Prime timeline’ show and movies in the first place (featuring an ‘alternate universe’ elderly ‘Spock’ character who is merely a doppelganger of the ‘Prime timeline’ one)…I’ve now decided to settle on looking on DISCOVERY as being set in a wholly separate ‘alternative universe’ to the ‘Kelvin Timeline’ and ‘Prime Timeline’ altogether, no matter what the ‘official’ intention is.

Looking at it this way eliminates ALL the annoying/frustrating contradictions to those other ‘timelines’ for me, rather than having to accept it’s just another re-designed, total reboot of the original concept material – which it is, let’s face it. But don’t let any of you let that bother you, as you’re very welcome to view it however you wish to.

While this new show’s ‘re-interpretation’ has disappointed me in many ways with it’s particular production designs and uniforms, it’s bland ‘main theme’ and accompanying ‘line drawing’ visuals, it’s ridiculously wacky ‘spore drive/giant tardigrade’/spinning ship propulsion system, and it’s totally misplaced and unnecessary swearing(!) for instance – I’m actually finding it to be mildly entertaining in certain ways now, and am warming to some of the new characters somewhat.

Despite wishing that Lorca had given this particular ‘Mudd’ another smack in the face (for ‘killing’ him so many times) before dispatching him for a long penal sentance courtesy of Starfleet’s penal system, rather than letting this tricky psychopath go…I still enjoyed quite a bit of this latest episode.

However, this particular brand of ‘Star Trek’ will never be part of the original show’s ‘timeline’ for me in a million light years. And while it will also never have anywhere near the nostalgic ‘re-watchable factor’ for me in the way that the classic TOS ‘timeline’ shows and movies have, it’s got a certain curiousity value to keep me on the journey for the time being, seeing as I already have Netflix.

Final thoughts for now – the fades to black between scenes are a bit annoying too, as these pauses seem to last too long before the next scene continues. And I really could have done without them starting to introduce ‘previews’ for the next weeks instalment at the end!

I believe those fades to pauses are where commercials are to be placed.

You got it. Those are the places where adverts are inserted for those on the lower priced All Access tier. They’re also for CBS’ Canadian parter Bell Media which shows DSC on regular cable/satellite up Canada which means it has have to commercial breaks for them as well.

No ads on Netflix

And I really could have done without them starting to introduce ‘previews’ for the next weeks instalment at the end!
But Cervantes, that’s a time-honored tradition from the days of TOS. I remember it well from 1967 onward.

@ JL and MW – Ah, I see. Man, all the non-Netflix viewers are really getting gypped with this show, as it would be almost unwatchable for me with all those ad breaks!

@ Marja – Of course, but I wasn’t expecting that kind of thing for DISCOVERY. It just means I’m having to turn Discovery off abruptly at the end, rather than see the ‘spoilers’ for the next episode.

@Cervantes — thanks for sharing.

Well that Scientist misses one big thing… Ripper is not an Earth-Tardigrade but an Alien Lifeform resembling a Tardigrade.

To all the scientists… it’s called science FICTION ffs. Geez… get over yourselves.

So we see Discovery jumped headlong into the TNG treknobabble swamp with its too-detailed explanation of its not-real-super-gloppy-drive. Whatever happened to “it just works, don’t explain it?” The one thing TOS realized was “explaining it” is just a tacit admission it isn’t real in the first place (which we kinda already knew). And for TNG it was a reason to engage the doubletalk generators and fire up the “level 1 diagnostics.” Sigh.

TOS used scientific gobbledygook to explain all kinds of stuff. The problem people had with TNG and the other spinoff shows was that they often used made-up tech and science (“technobabble”) to solve problems which should have been handled dramatically–something that Discovery, for all its other issues, has largely avoided.

Am I the only one who’s made the Alice in Wonderland connection with the mushroom spores? Alice’s conundrum of which side of the mushroom to eat is very evident this season. MB is a type of Alice, indeed has literally compared herself to Alice on a couple occasions. I agree with those who say this is a “fantasy” element. Alice is a fantasy. No mushroom can make you taller or smaller (some can make you FEEL that way though). TOS ventured into mythology and fairy tales frequently. “Adonais” makes no scientific sense whatsoever, but it’s an interesting idea. “Shore Leave” actually features Alice and the White Rabbit. Star Trek has always loved to try to find believable explanations for mythological or fairy tale logic/magic in the Final Frontier (generally it was a malfunctioning computer). TOS is full of these references, from the Bible, Milton, Shakespeare, etc. We’re watching FICTION, not “Science for Dummies.” Science fiction has always played fast and loose with scientific fact. The science is not the point. The point is the forward motion of the story, which ultimately says something about who we are as viewers/readers.

As for the “ducking” bomb, lest we forget Picard says “merde” in “Farpoint.” This is French for “shit.” That was 1980s prime time. So cool your jets. If you have younger children watching this, I can’t see how an impolite word is more difficult to explain than the severe, graphic beatings some characters give and receive. If you’re worried about children picking up bad habits, I’d be more inclined to think physical violence is the greater concern.

Kirk, Nice angle and you are dead on. As kids we didn’t understand the science and we didn’t care! It was the familiar real life or known fantasy that held our attention.

@ Kirk1701 – there’s a world of difference between ‘merde’ and ‘F-bombs’ I’d say. Between the sweary dialogue and the violence in DISCOVERY, no responsible parent should be letting young children watch this as far as I’m concerned.

@Cervantes That’s a choice for each family to make for themselves. I’m not sure a blanket statement is helpful here. Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who weren’t ever billed as “family” entertainment. There are many stories of UK and Commonwealth kids hiding behind their couches because Doctor Who was too scary that week. Now those kids write Doctor Who (Mark Gatiss for example).

And swears were swears when I was growing up. We were well shown that tv or movie language was not to be repeated. TV is not responsible for any child’s behaviour.

LOL where do some of you people live? My parents cussed like sailors around me my entire life. Most people I know cursed. So did half the kids in my school. YOu seriously think a kid is going to hear the F word for the first time from a TV show? You can’t be this naive.

As for the violence I guess that is a different matter. Again though most teenagers watch stuff like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Everything in Discovery is pretty tame compared to most cable stuff out there.

I don’t know that I didn’t care about the science, but I definitely wasn’t watching it as a science LESSON. The fantastic ways they used science and technology was the most important draw for me, beyond Kirk and Spock, that is.

At the risk of being attacked by roaming bands of feral Trekkies trying to nerve-pinch me to death, let’s take a look at where we are so far:

Along with a “clandestine” organisation that seems to be the worst-disguised black ops agency in the galaxy, DSC also has propulsion using magic mushrooms, navigation using a giant bug, human-eating Klingons that look like a mixture of LOTR’s orcs and Babylon 5’s G’Kar, a time-loop plot recycled from TNG, and shipboard parties involving 90s pop music and beer pong.

That’s not a Trek show originally presented as a “serious drama rivalling Game of Thrones”. That’s not even the nonsensical Agents of Shield. That’s Red Dwarf.

Embrace the silliness if it’s the only way to enjoy DSC, but you can’t deny how ridiculous this stuff is ;)

Spore drive definitely fake science, one of the weakest parts of the Discovery (saved only by its exciting TOS universe setting). What I am looking forward to is its demise (obviously doesn’t survive to TOS/TNG, etc). I hope it goes out in a blaze of glory, something gone horribly wrong, inviting invasion, evil tardigrade conquest, Discovery gets stranded elsewhere never to be seen again to solve… whole series on Discovery having to colonize somewhere elsewhere far from here.

This is the ENTIRE problem with the show for me though. I don’t want most or all the stuff we see on the show just disappear or becomes ‘classified’ because it doesn’t keep in line to stuff in TOS and TNG era. I mean whats the point then?

This is the very odd issue of making it a prequel. They want this very advanced tech like the spore drive but then the only way to explain it away is by simply making it go away. Then why have the show in this era if you can’t just organically add things in this period? Why introduce things you know that can’t be true canon? Why I don’t get why it had to be pre-TOS, especially now that they are throwing in holodecks (yes, I heard the reasoning for it, the reality is like it or not it was never seen in the TOS era even in more basic stages). As said before whats funny is everything shown so far would fit just fine in a post TNG/Voy era. Nothing would feel out of place like it does now.

And I don’t love the idea of the spore drive either. But to me its weird how so many people accept a ship that can basically teleports itself anywhere in the universe but then hated stuff like the personal long range transporter introduced in the Kelvin films. Whats the difference? One is being done by a ship vs another that sends people individually. Both concepts seem pretty extreme/absurd but I guess you can say that about a lot of Trek tech. I guess extreme given the period they take place in.

Anyway, I wouldn’t hold my breath about Discovery getting stranded somewhere else though….that would bring up way too many Voyager parallels. ;)

@Cmd.Bremmon — the spore drive became the basis for the development of the TransWarp drive. Prove me wrong.

Regarding the swearing, that could be interpreted as another “Discovery” break from ST canon. Kirk indicated in “The Voyage Home” that society in his own era had long ago moved beyond some of the types of profanity that would go into the PG- (or above) rated category, and tied cursing to something that was more common in the 20th century and “the literature of the day.”

I slightly disagree with that. In TVH he wasn’t saying there was no cursing just that it wasn’t used so liberally, thats all. I think what was being said was its not something that is used in every other word in the future like it is now, not that its extinct completely.

My issue is not whether the science is feasible or not, this is after all fiction with a pinch of science. What I’d really like to see more of is the Scientific Process. Trial and error, tinkering and learning from mistakes. So far all I see are magical devices that work immediately and effortlessly.

That totally would have made Enterprise the best of all the Trek series (oh man, that first contact went horribly wrong, guess we need a Prime Directive). On the plus side Discovery is much more trial and error than TNG – free energy starships with holodecks and replicators that make anything you want. All I need to do is technobabble the technobabble.. No energy input required lol

I agree ken-trek. It is all just thrown in there without trying to make it fit. I get they don’t want to over do it with technobable but Discovery feels like a ship that it can do literally anything at this point because its in the script.