There is a world so small, we can't see even with a light microscope. That world is the field of nanotechnology, the realm of atoms and nanostructures. Nanotechnology is a field of research and innovation concerned with building 'things' - generally, materials and devices - on the scale of atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology represents the manipulation of matter on an atomic molecular and supermolecular scale.
The science of nanotech is cutting-edge but simple enough to be affordable globally and the development prospect is enormous. So it’s no surprise that many developing countries have already embarked on commercializing the technology. The developing world, Brazil, Chile, China, India, the Philippines, South Korea, South Africa and Thailand have shown their commitment to nanotechnology by establishing government-funded programmes and research institutes. Researchers at the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics have classified these countries as 'front-runners' (China, South Korea, India) and 'middle ground' players (Thailand, Philippines, South Africa, Brazil, Chile). In addition, Argentina and Mexico are 'up and comers': although they have research groups studying nanotechnology, their governments have not yet organized dedicated funding.
Nanotechnology holds the promise of new solutions to problems that hinder the development of poor countries, especially in relation to health and sanitation, food security, and the environment. In its 2005 report entitled Innovation: applying knowledge in development, the UN Millennium Project task force on science technology and innovation wrote that "nanotechnology is likely to be particularly important in the developing world, because it involves little labour, land or maintenance; it is highly productive and inexpensive; and it requires only modest amounts of materials and energy". Scientists are even investigating use of nanomaterials to improve delivery of fertilizers and pesticides, and to create transgenic crops that would not be considered GM. Sonia Trigueros, a researcher at Britain’s University of Oxford believes its “applications are limitless”.
With regard to nanotechnology and water treatment, an active emerging area of research is the development of novel nanomaterials with increased affinity, capacity, and selectivity for heavy metals and other contaminants. Numerous studies have shown that nanomaterials can effectively remove various pollutants in water and thus have been successfully applied in water and wastewater treatment. The benefits from use of nanomaterials may derive from their enhanced reactivity, surface area and sequestration characteristics. A variety of nanomaterials are in various stages of research and development, each possessing unique functionalities that is potentially applicable to the remediation of industrial effluents, groundwater, surface water and drinking water.
Membrane processes are considered key components of advanced water purification and desalination technologies and nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles, and dendrimers are contributing to the development of more efficient and cost-effective water filtration processes.
With regard to sensing, detection, and monitoring, of particular interest is the development of new and enhanced sensors to detect biological and chemical contaminants at very low concentration levels in the environment, including water.
The medical advances that may be possible through nanotechnology include both diagnostics and therapeutic procedures. Disease diagnostics and screening play a major role in developing countries, where access to medical facilities is scarce or non-existent. Cheap and easy-to-use diagnostic solutions in form of portable lab-on-chip technology and sensor devices for blood tests and pathogen detection will be especially beneficial in rural areas. For instance, several biological agents like albumin/dextran/perfluorobutane gas microcarriers (PGMCs) nanoparticles can be utilized for cardiac applications. Albumin-coated gas microbubbles have an interesting property, that is, they do not adhere to normally functioning endothelium but can attach to dysfunctional endothelial cells or to extracellular matrix of the disrupted vascular wall, an interaction that could be used not only as a marker of endothelial damage but even drug delivery. The cardiovascular drugs can be incorporated into the microbubbles in a number of different ways, including binding of the drug to the microbubble shell and attachment of site-specific ligands.
The much touted big three diseases (HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis) are responsible for millions of deaths in developing countries, while their impact on the developed world is significantly less due to the social and medical apparatus in these countries offering better living conditions to those who fall ill. With the help of nanotechnologies, this dramatic issue could be efficiently addressed.
Numerous nanomedicine research efforts deal with diagnosing and fighting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Nanotechnology offers a unique opportunity to combine and improve different pharmacological profiles of antiretroviral drugs, with more convenient drug administration and potentially better patient adherence to HIV therapy.
Research is also underway to use nanotechnology against malaria parasites and nanobiosensors for treatment of tuberculosis, as well as exploring the possibility of creating a tuberculosis vaccine. In the near future, it should become possible to construct machines (nanorobots) on the micrometer scale, made up of parts on the nanometer scale, like 100 nm manipulator arms, 10 nm sorting rotors for molecule-by-molecule reagent purification, and smooth super hard surfaces made of atomically flawless diamond. These devices could be controlled by nanocomputers that would be able to activate, control, and deactivate these devices at will. Further, they would store and execute clinical plans, receive and process external signals and stimuli, communicate with other nanocomputers or external control and monitoring devices, and possess contextual knowledge to ensure safe functioning of the nanorobots.
The use of carbon nanotubes — long, narrow, stiff tubes of carbon — to alter plant genes without foreign DNA being inserted into the plant genome itself, which would lead to gene-edited crops that would not be considered genetically modified is one of the perks of nanotechnology. Given the large and ongoing public opposition to genetically modified crops in developing nations, this approach could be a more palatable way to deliver benefits such as drought or flood resistance. Recent research studies show that carbon nanotubes can be used to deliver gene-editing machinery known as CRISPR/Cas9 inside plant cells — through the cell wall and the membrane– something that is otherwise tricky to do.
Gene editing then allows precise genetic enhancement to create crops that are resistant to herbicides, insects, diseases and drought. It has the potential to make better crops without the kind of public fears surrounding genetic modification. The nanoparticles do not require refrigeration, as does Agrobacterium, or advanced-tech laboratory equipment for use, as would a gene gun, so their use is possible in limited-resource environments. Furthermore, as agriculture faces numerous and unprecedented challenges, such as reduced crop yield due to biotic and abiotic stresses, including nutrient deficiency and environmental pollution, the emergence of nanotechnology has offered promising applications for precision agriculture. The term precision agriculture or farming has emerged in recent years, meaning the development of wireless networking and miniaturization of the sensors for monitoring, assessing, and controlling agricultural practices.
More specifically, it is related to the site-specific crop management with a wide array of pre- and post-production aspects of agriculture, ranging from horticultural crops to field crops. Recent advancements in tissue engineering and engineered nanomaterials-based targeted delivery of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas (CRISPR-associated protein) mRNA, and sgRNA for the genetic modification (GM) of crops is a noteworthy scientific achievement. Again, nanotechnology provides excellent solutions for an increasing number of environmental challenges. For example, the development of nanosensors has extensive prospects for the observation of environmental stress and enhancing the combating potentials of plants against diseases. Therefore, such continuous improvements in nanotechnology with special preference on the identification of problems and development of collaborative approaches for sustainable agricultural growth has remarkable potential to provide broad social and equitable benefits.
It’s hard to argue against technologies that will prolong human life, and this is probably the most exciting area of nanotechnology. The holy grail of nanomedicine is nanobots that swim through your bloodstream patrolling for tumors, arterial clogs, or other dangerous abnormalities. Those things are still a long way away, but in the meantime, scientists are using nanoparticles in multiple ways like targeted delivery vehicles for cancer medications. Scientists from MIT recently proved that it’s possible to insert nano factories into the body to manufacture drugs on demand at specific sites. Who knows, in the future, curing cancer could be as simple as getting a shot.
Despite the blossoming of this relatively new technology some scientists have raised concerns about its long-term safety to human health and the environment, with many scientists calling for better and more internationally coordinated regulation and oversight of the proliferating uses of nanoparticles. But against this march of technology, some people have been increasingly worried about the lack of long-term studies on the impact of nanomaterials on human health— and the environment. The transparency and vigilance against the risk are too many. No one knows if, and how, safe they are in the long term since most safety research has been done in the lab, on cells or mice, and in unrealistic settings