Knowledge Update

Advantages & Disadvantages of Nanotechnology

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Understanding, shaping and combining matter at the atomic and molecular scale is called nanotechnology. Nanotechnology encompasses science, medicine, engineering, computing and robotics at this scale, called the Nano scale. Nanotechnology offers the potential for new and faster kinds of computers, more efficient power sources and life-saving medical treatments. Numerous studies suggest that nanotechnology will have major, long-term effects on agriculture and food production. Nanoparticles have enhanced reactivity due to enhanced solubility, greater proportion of surface atoms relative to the interior of a structure, unique magnetic/optical properties, electronic states, and catalytic reactivity that differ from equivalent bulk materials. The positive morphological effects of nanomaterials include enhanced germination percentage and rate; length of root and shoot, and their ratio; and vegetative biomass of seedlings along with enhancement of physiological parameters like enhanced photosynthetic activity and nitrogen metabolism in many crop plants. Additionally, this technology holds the promise of controlled release of agrochemicals and site targeted delivery of various macromolecules needed for improved plant disease resistance, efficient nutrient utilization and enhanced plant growth.

fig 1 nano

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about potential adverse effects of nanoparticles on biological systems and the environment such as toxicity generated by free radicals leading to lipid peroxidation and DNA damage. Under this scenario, there is a need to predict the environmental effect of these nanoparticles in the near future. Additional disadvantages include economic disruption and possible threats to security, privacy, health and the environment.

fig 2 nano

Nanotechnology in Manufacturing

Nanotechnology is already making new materials available that could revolutionize many areas of manufacturing. For example, nanotubes and nanoparticles, which are tubes and particles only a few atoms across, and aerogels, materials composed of very light and strong materials with remarkable insulating properties, could pave the way for new techniques and superior products. In addition, robots that are only a few nanometers in length, called nanobots, and nanofactories could help construct novel materials and objects.

Nanotechnology in Energy generation

Nanotechnology may transform the ways in which we obtain and use energy. In particular, it's likely that nanotechnology will make solar power more economical by reducing the cost of constructing solar panels and related equipment. Energy storage devices will become more efficient as a result. Nanotechnology will also open up new methods of generating and storing energy.

Nanotechnology in Electronics and Computing

The field of electronics is set to be revolutionized by nanotechnology. Quantum dots, for example, are tiny light-producing cells that could be used for illumination or for purposes such as display screens. Silicon chips can already contain millions of components, but the technology is reaching its limit; at a certain point, circuits become so small that if a molecule is out of place the circuit won't work properly. Nanotechnology will allow circuits to be constructed very accurately on an atomic level.

Nanotechnology in Medicine

Nanotechnology has the potential to bring major advances in medicine. Nanobots could be sent into a patient's arteries to clear away blockages. Surgeries could become much faster and more accurate. Injuries could be repaired cell-by-cell. It may even become possible to heal genetic conditions by fixing the damaged genes. Nanotechnology could also be used to refine drug production, tailoring drugs at a molecular level to make them more effective and reduce side effects.

Nanotechnology in Environmental pollution

Some of the more extravagant negative future scenarios have been debunked by experts in nanotechnology. For example: the so-called "gray goo" scenario, where self-replicating nanobots consume everything around them to make copies of themselves, was once widely discussed but is no longer considered to be a credible threat. It is possible, however, that there will be some negative effects on the environment as potential new toxins and pollutants may be created by nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology in Economic Upheaval

It is likely that nanotechnology, like other technologies before it, will cause major changes in many economic areas. Although products made possible by nanotechnology will initially be expensive luxury or specialist items, once availability increases, more and more markets will feel the impact. Some technologies and materials may become obsolete, leading to companies specializing in those areas going out of business. Changes in manufacturing processes brought about by nanotechnology may result in job losses.

Nanotechnology in Privacy and Security

Nanotechnology raises the possibility of microscopic recording devices, which would be virtually undetectable. More seriously, it is possible that nanotechnology could be weaponized. Atomic weapons would be easier to create and novel weapons might also be developed. One possibility is the so-called "smart bullet," a computerized bullet that could be controlled and aimed very accurately. These developments may prove a boon for the military; but if they fell into the wrong hands, the consequences would be dire.

Nanotechnology in Phyto-toxicity

Plants are an essential base component of all ecosystems and play a critical role in the fate and transport of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in the environment through plant uptake and bioaccumulation (Xingmao et al. 2010). It is also important to mention that the bioaccumulation, biomagnification and biotransformation of engineered nanoparticles in food crops are still not well understood. Very few nanoparticles and plant species have been studied with respect to the accumulation and subsequent availability of nanoparticles in food crops. Most commonly encountered ENPs in the environment fall into one of the five following categories: carbonaceous nanoparticles, metal oxides, quantum dots, zero valent metals and nanopolymers. These ENPs closely interact with their surrounding environment and as a result ENPs will inevitably interact with plants and these interactions such as uptake and accumulation in plant biomass will greatly affect their fate and transport in the environment. ENPs could also adhere to plant roots and exert physical or chemical toxicity on plants. For interacting with plants ENPs have to penetrate cell walls and plasma membranes of epidermal layers in roots to enter vascular tissues (xylem) in order to be taken up and Trans located through stems to leaves. Cell walls, through which water molecules and other solutes must pass to enter into roots, are a porous network of polysaccharide fiber matrices. ENP aggregates with a size smaller than the largest pore are expected to pass through and reach the plasma membrane and the larger particle aggregates will not enter into plant cells. But the authors also admitted that ENPs may induce the formation of new and large size pores which allow the internalization of large ENPs through cell walls. Once micro- and macromolecules enter plant cell walls, the molecules can be transported through plasmadesmata, the intercellular organelles of 20-50 nm in diameter. Selective and non-selective pathways through plasmadesmata are found to transport regulatory proteins and RNAs in short distances (Xingmao et al., 2010).

Nanotechnology and Toxicity to Human and Animals

All substances, from arsenic to table salt are toxic to cells, animals or people at some exposure level. Before interpreting toxicological data, it is thus essential to characterize the expected concentrations of engineered nanoparticles that may be present in the air, water and soil. A useful way to approach the problem is to consider how human populations, both in the present and near future, may be exposed to engineered nanoparticles (Colvin 2003). Toxicological studies of fibrous and tubular nanostructures have shown that at extremely high doses of these materials are associated with fibrotic lung responses and result in inflammation and an increased risk of carcinogenesis. Singlewalled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) have been shown to inhibit the proliferation of kidney cells in cell culture by inducing cell apoptosis and decreasing cellular adhesive ability. In addition, they cause inflammation in the lung upon instillation. Dosing keratinocytes and bronchial epithelial cells in vitro with SWCNT has been shown to result in increases in markers of oxidative stress. Multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) are persistent in the deep lung after inhalation and, once there, are able to induce both inflammatory and fibrotic reactions. Proteomic analysis conducted in human epidermal keratinocytes exposed to MWCNT showed both increased and decreased expression of many proteins relative to controls. These protein alterations suggested dysregulation of intermediate filament expression, cell cycle inhibition, altered vesicular trafficking/exocytosis and membrane scaffold protein down-regulation. Charge properties and the ability of carbon nanoparticles to affect the integrity of the blood-brain barrier as well as exhibit chemical effects within the brain have also been studied. Reportedly, the neutral nanoparticles and low concentration anionic nanoparticles can serve as carrier molecules providing chemicals direct access to the brain and that cationic nanoparticles have an immediate toxic effect at the blood-brain barrier.

Conclusion and Future Perspective

New tools are underway which will be equipped with Nano devices capable of replacing many cellular types of machinery efficiently. Use of nanotechnology could permit rapid advances in agricultural research, such as reproductive science and technology which will produce large amount of seeds and fruits unaffected by season and period, early detection of stresses and alleviating stress effects and disease prevention and treatment in plants. Still, the full potential of nanotechnology in the agricultural and food industry is yet to be realized and is gradually moving from theoretical knowledge towards the application regime. Smart sensors and smart delivery systems will help the agricultural industry combat viruses, spores and other crop pathogens. Nanostructured catalysts will be available which will increase the efficiency of pesticides and herbicides, allowing on demand measured doses to be used. In the future, Nano scale devices could be used to make agricultural systems smart. Apart from the potential benefits of nanotechnology in agricultural sector it also involves some risks. It cannot be claimed with certainty either those nanotechnologies are fully safe for health or that they are harmful. Risks associated with chronic exposure of farmers to nanomaterial, unknown life cycles; interactions with the biotic or abiotic environment and their possible amplified bioaccumulation effects have not been accounted for and these should be seriously considered before these applications move from laboratories to the field. The common challenges related to commercializing nanotechnology, are: high processing costs, problems in the scalability of R & D for prototype and industrial production and concerns about public perception of environment, health and safety issues. The Governments across the world should form common and strict norms and monitoring, before commercialization and bulk use of these nanomaterials.

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MR. Mr. Courage Dele Famusiwa, is a Lecturer II in Skyline University Nigeria. M. Tech in Applied Biochemistry and Toxicology, B. Tech in Applied Biochemistry from Federal University of Technology, Akure.

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