What is Nanotechnology?
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The term nanotechnology has been bandied about for years, but what is it, and more importantly, where is it going?
Nanotechnology is a form of engineering on the molecular scale. It is a series of technologies used to manipulate atoms and molecules into specific positions in order to create nanoscale structures. It is in the domain of both chemistry and physics.
Nanotechnology is often considered ghostware. The term ‘nanotechnology’ has been overhyped in the last 20 years, and the fruits of the actual technologies involved are sparse. The future does hold tremendous promise, if and when the technologies mature, and could revolutionize medicine, agriculture, space exploration, warfare, fuel synthesis, and consumer products. Essentially, nanotechnology could give us the ability to manipulate all of Earth’s resources more efficiently.
Nanomedicine is a new field within nanotechnology that has the power to synthesize any type of molecules. It can also replicate them and make exact copies.
X rays and ultrasonic technology once revolutionized medicine; in the future nanomedicine will do the same for millions. We will see medicine in a way we never imagined. Nanotechnology and biomedicine together will miniaturize instrumentation in everything from ophthalmology to neuroscience, and health professionals will learn new science and new techniques for diagnosis and treatment of disease.
As the parents of nanotechnology Drexler and Feynman predicted, to work at a nanoscale offers the possibility to rearrange all kinds of metabolic processes as well as the production of “nanointelligent” molecules that will impact all industries.
At present health professionals already know how to inoculate with synthetic biomolecules called nanorobots.
Nanorobots are specifically programmed molecules. Their content will depend on the main objective that they have to achieve. As an easy example to understand for all readers, we could think of a patient with a specific type of developing tumor (at the early stages). The nano molecules would be biologically programmed to travel towards the affected area, identify the tumor cells, and then eliminate them. A second nanorobot would be in charge of stabilizing the body functions after the elimination of the malignant tumor.
Other sectors involved
Microbiology and genetics have already replicated the antigen molecules with nanomedicine and stem cell therapy. Moreover, researchers have learned how viruses attack specific cells using microbiological techniques. On the other hand, genetics have allowed scientists to “personalize” and therefore customize nanomedicine to each individual profile.
Replication and ethical issues
The power of nanomedicine can also be misused, therefore it is important to establish a well-defined set of rules or we may be submitted to a horrifying scenario. The genomes of all species including the human being could be modified and entirely deleted using nanomedical techniques; this could even make a whole race of individuals disappear.
“Those concerned with the long-range future of humanity must concern themselves with the opportunities and dangers arising from this technology,” writes Eric Drexler in the 1981 PNAS (Procedures Natural Academy Society) article “Molecular engineering: an approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation.”
Nanomolecules can identify certain genes and replicate them. Unfortunately, this technique could be used to destroy certain proteins, to rearrange the shape of different types of genes, and furthermore, to be used for unethical reasons.
For the industry of cloning, nanorobots can be programmed to obtain all the biological data of an individual and on a second stage, such information can be analyzed by a computer and create a biological copy of a person.
We cannot be naive and pretend that all this development is going to be only for the benefit of humanity. On the contrary, there are some important flaws that can endanger the use of nanotechnologies. In any case let’s hope that in the future those who use nanotechnology do not use it to destroy what God and nature created with so much love and harmony, the life of all species.
The potential dangers of nanotechnology revolve around human welfare. The most drastic potential danger is the runaway growth of self-replicating nanomachines, often called “the gray goo problem”. It’s possible, but unlikely, that a “species” of nanomachine could consume Earth’s biosphere (especially if it required carbon to survive). If it ever started it would be a slow enough process that we could probably figure out a way to contain or destroy it.
A more likely problem is nanoparticle toxicity. The smaller an object is, the more bioreactive it is. That means that it could adversely affect biological processes such as cell replication or cellular nutrient absorption. This is also a more immediate problem since the first commercial applications of nanotechnology are nanoparticles, specifically design molecules. These are already being incorporated into paints, cosmetics, and food packaging. As the variety of nanoparticle designs grows, the amount of medical research necessary to determine toxicity also grows. If funding is lax, this could be a huge health problem. (remember asbestos?)
In a broader context, if nanotechnology fulfills it promises and changes the way we manipulate our natural resources, it could change societal structures the way the informational, industrial, and agricultural revolutions did. If this happens over just decades, social upheaval has the potential to be very chaotic.