Borg nanoprobes are arguably the most powerful technology in the entire Trekverse. Though the Borg were introduced in the second season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” their nanoprobe technology wasn’t explained until “Star Trek: First Contact.” “Star Trek: Voyager” established much of the “Star Trek” canon about nanoprobes, including their amazing uses.
These microscopic robotic devices were implanted into the bloodstream of any individual the Borg assimilated. As soon as they were injected, the nanoprobes took over the host’s cells, essentially reprogramming them. The nanoprobes were capable of creating cybernetic implants within the body. They also repaired damaged tissue within the host body.
When Seven of Nine joined the Voyager crew, she gradually taught them about the nanoprobes and the countless biological and technical tasks they could perform.
The Uses For Nanoprobes
Before the events of “Voyager,” the only time Federation officers saw Borg nanoprobes was during the assimilation process. However, when the crew of the Voyager got stranded in the Delta Quadrant — Borg territory — they had plenty of opportunities to see the nanoprobes in action. The crew learned that they could be used for everything from repairing the ship’s systems to literally bringing someone back from the dead.
The first time the Voyager crew use Borg nanoprobes, they created a biological weapon. In the two-parter “Scorpion,” The Doctor reprogrammed the nanoprobes to act like the cells of Species 8472, so they could be assimilated. However, the nanoprobes ended up killing the cells they invaded, killing the hosts.
Shortly after that, Seven of Nine donated her nanoprobes to bring Neelix back from the dead. In the episode “Mortal Coil,” Neelix was killed during an away mission. As the crew mourned his loss, Seven revealed that the Borg frequently revived drones up to 18 hours after their death. She walked The Doctor through the process so they could revive Neelix.
Nanoprobes were also useful for ship repairs and enhancements. In the episode “Course: Oblivion,” Seven used her nanoprobes to strengthen the warp field of the Silver Blood USS Voyager so they could make it back to their homeworld.
Additionally, Borg nanoprobes could be modified to treat serious conditions, like radiation poisoning. In the episode “Friendship One,” Seven and The Doctor modified her nanoprobes to treat advanced radiation poisoning. It proved to be far more effective than any other treatments previously employed.
The nanoprobes could be used for more benign functions as well. In the episode “Someone to Watch Over Me,” Seven modified her nanoprobes to metabolize alcohol faster so the Kadi Ambassador could sober up.
Theories: Why Didn’t the Federation Use the Nanoprobes?
Once Voyager got home, the crew almost certainly informed the Federation of the myriad uses for Borg nanoprobes. However, there are no canon mentions of the Federation using the nanoprobes after the Voyager returned. So, why didn’t they use the Borg technology for their own advancement? There are a few theories.
Marcus Fry from WhatCulture suggested that the Federation had limited access to nanoprobes. The only ones they’d ever used were from Seven of Nine, and she could only donate a limited number. Her biological supply of nanoprobes certainly couldn’t support the use of nanoprobes throughout the Federation.
However, Fry also offers a solution to this obstacle. The nanoprobes could be harvested from recently dead Borg drones the Federation found during their explorations. This still might only provide limited quantities, but they could be stored and used in special situations.
Let’s assume that the Federation knew they could harvest the nanoprobes because Seven told them. The fact that they still didn’t use the nanoprobes suggests there must have been another reason they didn’t.
Another fan theory suggests that the Federation never used Borg nanoprobes because they’d developed their own version. Nanites were first introduced in the TNG episode “Evolution.” In that episode, Dr. Beverly Crusher revealed that nanites were used in complicated medical situations because they could infiltrate the patient’s cells and perform repairs.
However, the Federation nanites were more volatile than the Borg nanoprobes. In “Evolution,” the nanites interacted, which they aren’t supposed to do, and took over the Enterprise-D. They eventually gained sentience and negotiated with Captain Picard to be resettled on a nearby planet. So, though the Federation had its own version of nanoprobes, the nanites presented some serious complications.
It’s possible that the Federation continued to develop nanites to the point where they were as stable and useful as nanoprobes. If that is the case, then there wouldn’t be a need to use Borg nanoprobes.
The fan theory that makes the most sense given the established canon about the Federation is that they’ve deemed it unethical to use the Borg nanoprobes. Using nanoprobes is incredibly risky. There are unforeseeable complications that could prove deadly. For example, when the nanoprobes were used to revive Neelix, he went insane and nearly killed himself.
Nanoprobes can also be used for extremely dangerous and questionable activities as evidenced by the fact that the Voyager crew used them as a biological weapon against Species 8472. “Star Trek” canon has established on several occasions that the Federation almost always errs on the side of caution and ethics when it comes to technology. So, it’s reasonable that the risks of using the nanoprobes were too high for the Federation to tolerate.
Harvesting the nanoprobes from recently dead Borg drones, which is one of the only ways they could get a steady supply, is also ethically dubious.
So, there’s plenty of information to suggest that the Federation simply didn’t want to deal with the ethical dilemmas posed by the use of Borg nanoprobes.
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