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Book review: Live Long and Evolve

by Eva Amsen

Live Long and EvolveMohamed Noor’s Live Long and Evolve is a book about science and about Star Trek, but it’s not a book about the “Science of” Star Trek. There are books like that, books that explain in great detail all the ways in which Star Trek is scientifically accurate or not. This is not that book. Instead, Live Long and Evolve is an introductory book about evolutionary biology, that uses anecdotes and references from the Star Trek series to illustrate genetics and other biological concepts.

These examples don’t always show Star Trek being particularly scientifically accurate, but they act as a talking point. For example, to introduce the section about changes in DNA, Noor references an episode from Star Trek Voyager’s second season, in which crew members’ DNA alterations cause them to turn into completely different organisms within a few days. The rest of the section explains what really happens when DNA acquires changes.

Noor assumes that his readers have some extent of Star Trek familiarity. If you want to learn about the basics of evolutionary biology, and you’ve not seen many Star Trek episodes, this might not be the book for you. But if you’re a big Star Trek fan, and curious about evolutionary biology, the many references to the show might help to get the various concepts across.

But Live Long and Evolve is also interesting for readers who are just curious about the ways that Star Trek incorporates references to genetics and evolution throughout the show. I probably fall in this audience myself. I already knew about the biology, and skipped past some sections because there was nothing new there for me. But I was interested in reading about the references to genetics within the Star Trek universe.

My favourite thing in the whole book is a graph in which Noor plotted the proportion of episodes in each Star Trek series that  uses the words “DNA”, “genetic” or “genome”. When Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, we knew very little about DNA and genetics, and few of the episodes mentioned these two words. That increases throughout the next years. In the series that aired after the 1990s, when the human genome project was mainstream news, the word “genomics” starts appearing.  It’s a great depiction of the way that scientific discovery seeps into popular culture, even if it’s not always used entirely correctly, as in the DNA mutation example above.

But a show where each generation is brings in new changes – for better or worse – is perhaps the perfect example to illustrate a book about evolution.

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