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Characters in the star trek future live a lot longer than people live today. For example, Jonathan Archer is still working at age 140 in the 2250s when Star Trek 2009 was set.

How is the increase in life span explained in the Star Trek universe?

Note that simply eliminating Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc would not cause such long lives. .. People age because the tips of the DNA molecules (called telomeres) in every cell in the body get "trimmed" (for lack of a better word) every time cells replicate. All the cells in the human body get replaced every 7 years, and some cells get replaced every few days. So the continual replacement of cells at first destroys the telemeres and then continually destroys the genetic information at the ends of the DNA molecules until the cells can no longer make viable copies of themselves so that the person ages and dies.

Oxidative stress from inhaling common alternative isotopes of oxygen also contributes to aging and death so that simply breathing causes eventual death.

Factors like telomere degradation and oxidative stress would cause people to die even if every current disease was prevented.

Star Trek hired lots of scientific consultants to make their explanations plausible. What scientific explanations were given for overcoming the non-disease causes of short life span, like telomere degradation and oxidative stress?

I am hoping that this will get answered by someone who knows something about science so that the answer can do justice to the consulting fees that Star Trek no doubt paid to biologists to develop their explanations.

How would the Voyager EMH, Dr. Flox, Dr. Crusher, or the Star Trek 2009 Leonard McCoy explain this to a Star Fleet medical conference?

  • I would say few of them had to perform manual labor. Instead they exercised safely without wearing out joints and generally using up their bodies. – Major Stackings Jul 28 '15 at 5:49
  • Semi-related question – Often Right Jul 28 '15 at 7:31
  • Do we have any data on how long it would take for telomere degradation and oxidative stress to become symptomatic enough to cause death? – DavidS Jul 28 '15 at 14:44
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    Related: a lot of the work against aging at the moment points out that heart disease and such aren't really separate from aging - they are the eventual symptoms of aging factors such as you describe. Therefore the research is targeting these small factors, rather than the large "disease". So essentially it's possible Star Trek just continues the current trend and has "cured" heart disease and such by treating underlying problems such as telomere degredation directly. This would also have the benefit of increasing lifespan. – DavidS Jul 28 '15 at 14:49
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    If you can dismantle somebody at the subatomic level and put them back together (as in transporter tech) reversing telomere degredation shouldn't be a big problem, it may be a matter of ethics and desire controlling how long one lives. – Jaydee Jul 28 '15 at 15:19
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Star Trek writers have been notably shy when it comes to disease and lifespan. When and how certain diseases common to the 20th and 21st centuries were defeated is not told to us, and the reasons for longer lifespans are not mentioned explicitly. However, it is clear that most of the diseases of today have been conquered by the 24th Century.

Regarding longer lifespans, we don't actually have a lot of evidence for this apart from the 137-year-old McCoy and an unsupported claim from Memory Alpha about 120-year lifespans. But for the purpose of the question, let's assume that lifespans are indeed generally much longer than now.

I'll focus on the final version of your question, by appealing to some modern science to conjecture a Star Trek-style reason for the increased longevity.

Let's start by going to go out on a limb and saying that, in many cases, eliminating cancer could be tantamount to life extension in the 24th Century.

Here's why.

Telomere terminal transferase (also called "telomerase") is a ribonucleoprotein that can be used to repair shortened telomeres (whether this was caused by oxidative stress or by normal cell division) and, at least in principle, extend life. It may also increase quality of life by slowing the progression of conditions and diseases associated with tissue degeneration.

However, telomerase application can cause a cell to bypass the so-called Hayflick limit on the number of times it can divide before expiring. Uncontrolled cell division may result, followed by cancer. In fact, there are proposed treatments for cancer that involve vaccinating the patient against his or her own telomerase production, to encourage apoptosis (death) of cancer cells.

There have been numerous studies on these aspects of telomeres and telomerase. Some of these studies are more conclusive than others. For the purpose of answering this question, let us suppose that the ability of telomerase to reverse various aging biomarkers in humans is, by the 24th Century, beyond debate.

The upshot then is that the ability to effectively treat all types of cancer would mean that telomerase could be administered medically in such a way so as to extend both the length and quality of life without risk of inducing terminal illness.

Star Trek medicine is ambiguous enough that we are not shown which preventative treatments and vaccines people receive over the course of their lives. We see emergency medicine almost exclusively in Star Trek. People could very well receive telomerase therapy at intervals, just as we receive vaccines and booster shots.

If I were the EMH speaking at a medical conference, this is how I would explain human longevity in the 24th Century: the defeat of cancer has allowed us to extend cell life using telomerase, without risk of malignancy.

  • This is a good answer except for the small problem that there isn't much support for the telomerase as a life-extension mechanism in animal models, nor is the circumstantial evidence very good in humans. As of 10 years ago it was a good guess, but more recent research hasn't really borne out that telomerase is super-important. However, the point about cancer is right on target anyway--to live longer you still need to avoid dying from cancer, even if the lifespan-extension treatments don't promote it. – Rex Kerr Jul 28 '15 at 19:02
  • @RexKerr : It is certainly not clear cut, but more recent research published in 2012 has reported positive effects of telomerase on reversing various aging biomarkers in elderly mice. In any case, I chose this particular angle precisely because the OP's question focused on telomere length. I have also reworded certain aspects to reflect the uncertainty over telomerase's role in aging. – Praxis Jul 28 '15 at 19:21
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    It's plausible that fiddling with telomerase could help, as could clearing senescent cells, as could a lot of other things. It's the simple "Oh, we cured cancer, so boom, telomerase to the rescue!" aspect of the answer that I think...well, honestly, it's very much in line with Star Trek biology (i.e. take one older piece of speculative biology and make it do way more for the plot than it can support). Or, to put it another way, that telomerase would be so important as to be the only thing deserving mention seems extremely implausible. – Rex Kerr Jul 28 '15 at 23:28
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    @RexKerr : But that's the point --- it's the kind of explanation they might actually give! It's what the OP wanted. :-) – Praxis Jul 28 '15 at 23:39
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    Ha, okay, point taken! – Rex Kerr Jul 28 '15 at 23:41
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There are only a few cases, which show an extreme lifespan.

One of them is the above mentioned Admiral Archer. The 'out of universe' explanation is: The reference to Archer and his dog in Star Trek (2009) was used for a joke. Being 140 years old can be possible and maybe explainable, but with a 100+ year old dog, it's pretty obvious that the script writers didn't think this through.

The second example i can think of is Dr. Leonard McCoy, who was ~ 137 years when he was aboard the Enterprise-D. This one also can be explained as "plot device": They wanted to have him on the Enterprise-D, but since that would make him almost 140 years old... they just went with it.

I don't think the writers thought of the implications for the human biology. The average life span was increased in order to explain McCoys age, and was probably also a product of simple observation. To quote memory-alpha:

However, at some point in history the average lifespan for Humans was only 35, and by 1999 it had become higher than a millennium earlier.

The average life-span increased rapidly. So the writers continued that. From memory-alpha:

The average life spans during the 22nd century was about one hundred years. This average age was still roughly the same during the 2250, but had risen to 120 by the mid-24th century.

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    With regards to Archer's dog, couldn't it have been a different dog? – PointlessSpike Jul 28 '15 at 13:51
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    Personally, I don't find it particularly shocking that two Starfleet admirals, one a doctor, with access to the best medical technology and in good shape, should live to 150 in a few centuries. Centuries are a really long time in technological development, and these people can go thousands of times the speed or light and teleport people through space. – ThePopMachine Jul 28 '15 at 14:35
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    @pointlessspike - Robert Orci said it was definitely the same dog. – Valorum Jul 28 '15 at 15:19
  • Elias Vaughn in the DS9 relaunch was a hundred years old but was comparable to a man in his late 50's now. – Omegacron Jul 28 '15 at 16:22
  • @Richard: True. But it was almost certainly a joke, as it was in response to an audience member saying "Please say yes!". – T.J. Crowder Nov 18 '15 at 9:43
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I see two reasons why this could be possible:

  1. Advancement in medicin and bio engineering: Life expectancy has increased significantly in the 20th century. This development can continue e.g. when science discovers some medicine to slow the decay of cells.
  2. Gravitation: Not sure how the artificial gravitation of the spaceships influences the time. But the closer to a gravitational source one is, the slower time passes (see some Interstellar questions on this site). They travel with warp speed and visit foreign solar systems, even galaxy. So maybe they are affected by some stronger gravitation than earth. And as they have a standard stardate this could influence the perception of age.

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