• Follow us

Social Media

Nanotechnology promises to revolutionize global nutrition — but it might be dangerous

Proponents of nanotechnology say it will revolutionize farming and global food systems, with applications being explored that could cut waste, make food safer and help create ‘super crops’ that escape the controversial label of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

If successful, it could help to overcome poor yields, malnutrition and opposition to GMOs – all of which are still large challenges in the global South.

The science of nanotech is cutting-edge but simple enough to be affordable globally. And the development prospect is huge. So it’s no surprise that many developing countries have already embarked on commercializing the technology.

But the blossoming of this relatively new technology also raises 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.

Developing nations have been left out of conversations about nanotech regulation, and there is still a need for better regulation of the technology at a national and global level to ensure the technology meets the needs of the poor with minimum risk to people.

So, what are the latest ideas in using nanotech in food security, what can it do, and what are the safety fears surrounding it?

The term nanotechnology generally refers to any use of nano-scale particles (between 1 and 100 nanometers). Their tiny size gives them unusual properties that can affect texture, appearance and flavor of foods – and they are already used as food additives.

New products containing these particles are also being explored to make biodegradable packaging, improve shelf life and prevent food poisoning and waste. For example, nano sensors in food packaging could soon tell you if food was exposed to sunlight and therefore degraded in quality.

Some scientists are planning to use it to improve nutrition. They are studying the use of nano emulsions — oil in water mixtures with tiny droplets — as excipients (foods that improve the bioactivity of foods ingested with them). These could increase our intake of nutrients from fruit and veg — a use that is especially promising in tackling malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have proper standards yet for regulating nanoparticles. There is no one single method to analyze a nanoparticle. There is no common ground or a dialogue,” Kiruba Krishnaswamy, University of Missouri, US, said.

The idea is to spray these on food to allow us to extract more nutrients. Similar nano emulsions are being explored for their antimicrobial activity to protect crops and foods from going off.

“Nanotechnology will be pretty ubiquitous in the coming decades in all sorts of products,” says Markita del Carpio Landry, physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States.

Boosting crop resilience

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”.

Landry’s team is exploring 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. 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.

The team recently showed 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.

Landry says that the approach would actually be cheaper than current methods used for genetic modification of crops, such as the gene gun – a device for delivering DNA to cells, or Agrobacterium bacteria used for gene transfer between cells.

“We calculated the cost of nanoparticle-based transformations over gene gun or Agrobacterium,” she says. “The costs are less for nanoparticles because they can be synthesized on a bulk scale.”

“Additionally,” she says, “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.”

Health and safety fears

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 limited,” says Mathilde Detcheverry, head of information at Avicenn, a French NGO campaigning for open information on nanotechnology. “We’re still in the dark.”

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. “We cannot say ‘oh, we’re totally safe’ – we need to work on that: we need to do better protocols to see toxicity,” says Trigueros.

Zahra Rattray, fellow at Scotland’s University of Strathclyde, says: “I’ve worked on projects where there was definite harm, and I’ve also reviewed some recent publications that have not been published yet and there was clear evidence from their work that there was a toxic effect of these particles.”

A 2017 review of the safety of nanoparticles in food concluded that some of them could have a “harmful effect” and that better tests of these effects were “urgently needed”.

Potential harmful effects include the leaching of silver nanoparticles used in packaging into foods, which could kill off good bacteria in the gut.

Another example is titanium dioxide, TiO2, also known as E171 and used as food whitener, which has been shown to accumulate in tissues of rats and to have toxic effects at certain doses. However, other studies have found it is not toxic and the industry that makes the material claims it is safe.

Uncertainty remains, partly because the effects of nanoparticles depend on a wide range of complex and intertwined factors, including their size, structure, coating, dose, as well as what they are consumed with.

“There is no doubt more research into the toxicity of these things should be carried out,” says Sowmya Purushothaman, researcher at University of California, Merced.

Regulatory vacuum

The absence of sound scientific protocols is a problem for policymakers and regulators. “There’s a total lack of regulation,” Rattray says.

Uncertainty and lack of data means it is difficult to regulate – or even know whether to regulate nanoparticles specifically, beyond the existing food safety and regulation laws. Such laws are generally more stringent in the developed world, so developing nations are especially exposed.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have proper standards yet for regulating nanoparticles,” says Kiruba Krishnaswamy, bioengineer at the University of Missouri, US. “There is no one single method to analyze a nanoparticle. There is no common ground or a dialogue.”

Experts say the issue calls for an international perspective, including developing nations.

“There should be an international harmonization of all that is happening, all the data that is being collected, where we are and what are the steps that we need to make sure it is safe for the next 20 to 30 years,” says Krishnaswamy.

In addition to the concerns over safety of food additives, there are also emerging concerns about environmental impacts.

Marie Simonin, researcher at the Institute of Research for Development, in Montpellier, France, says that some metal nanoparticles were assumed to be stable and non-toxic based on lab tests, but later found to be dissolved by microbes in natural systems, leading to toxic effects.

“We need to really try and do more realistic assessment; if you introduce them into the human body or a real ecosystem, what we know from the lab will not necessarily be true,” she says. “We’re talking about thousands of nanoparticles that are on the market. We have almost no knowledge of how they interact.”

Simonin adds: “I think this is a global problem and that developing countries are also concerned.”

Countries such as China or Brazil are already using nano-pesticides or are investing heavily in the development of this new generation of agrochemicals.

She says that because nano-pesticides are directly applied into the environment on a large scale, they can potentially also affect human health on a large scale as they will end up in water, air and food.

“Pesticide registration is very strict in Europe and in the US, but this is not necessarily true in the rest of the world and these nanotechnologies may develop even faster in emerging countries with important agriculture production,” she adds.

No alarmism

Despite concerns, though, scientists say there is no need for alarmism.

“The good news is nothing is immediately toxic, no one is going to instantly be poisoned with contamination of nanoparticles,” says Christine Ogilvie Hendren, a research scientist at Duke University, US.

Some scientists say the community is rising up to face the challenges around nanotechnology and getting policymakers on board for a smart, nuanced approach to regulation.

“I’m confident that we are on the right path, but we still have a lot work to do,” says Trigueros. “It’s a very young technology, so we need to have a positive view.”

Read More

Leave A Comment

More News

TechCrunch » Social

Patreon sells product curation site Kit to Geniuslink 2019-09-12 12:50:59Patreon, the platform for independent content creators to operate membership businesses for their core fans, announced it is selling the assets of Kit

Google Photos adds a time-traveling version of Stories, 2019-09-12 11:59:18Google Photos is getting its own version of Stories. But instead of focusing on what you’re doing now, as Stories on other platforms like Instag

Hatebase catalogues the world’s hate speech in real 2019-09-10 17:49:26Policing hate speech is something nearly every online communication platform struggles with. Because to police it, you must detect it; and to detect i

Nextdoor adds new funding, closes growth round at 2019-09-10 11:59:39Social networking platform for neighbors Nextdoor today announced it has secured additional funding to close out its $170 million growth round. The ne

Twenty and Mappen merge to help users hang 2019-09-10 10:27:25Today, social networks Twenty and Mappen are joining together in a merger under the Twenty brand. From the beginning, Twenty’s goal has been to

Facebook tightens policies around self-harm and suicide 2019-09-10 09:47:03Timed with World Suicide Prevention Day, Facebook is tightening its policies around some difficult topics, including self-harm, suicide and eating dis

Spotify users can now share music and podcasts 2019-09-09 09:46:22Spotify users can now share their favorite music and podcasts with friends on Snapchat, the company announced this morning, with added support for sha

Freeda raises another $16 million for its media 2019-09-09 03:11:32Italian startup Freeda Media has raised a $16 million Series B round. Existing investor Alven is leading the round, with Endeavor Catalyst, UniCredit

Looking to become the video-based social network of 2019-09-06 12:49:23When Medal.tv first launched on the scene, the company was an upstart trying to be the social network for the gaming generation. Since its debut in Fe

NY attorney general will lead antitrust investigation into 2019-09-06 10:20:50New York Attorney General Letitia James announced this morning that she’s leading an investigation into Facebook over antitrust issues — i

Daily Crunch: Facebook Dating comes to the US 2019-09-05 14:32:14The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox ever

Facebook’s lead EU regulator is asking questions about 2019-09-05 13:15:35Facebook’s lead data protection regulator in Europe has confirmed it’s put questions to the company about a major security breach that we


Elon Musk claims ‘pedo guy’ is a common New! 2019-09-17 16:03:01The insult, which Musk called a British cave diver on Twitter, means "creepy old man," according to the Tesla CEO. However, Musk and his legal team

New Mercedes concept car blends past designs with New! 2019-09-17 16:02:23Modeled after a 1902 luxury car of a similar name, the Vision Mercedes Simplex adds a few millennials touches to the nearly 102-year-old vehicle. Read

Seinfeld is coming to Netflix in 2021 New! 2019-09-17 16:01:39The 1990s show is making its first appearance on the streaming giant, soon after Netflix's planned removals of The Office and Friends. Read more...Mo

These memes about AirPods will make you say New! 2019-09-17 16:00:22Like many tech products before it, AirPods have found themselves to be the center of many hilarious memes. In fact, here are a few that are pretty har

KFC is testing a fried chicken sandwich with New! 2019-09-17 15:49:16Just when you thought it was time to bring home the troops from the great chicken sandwich war between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, KFC introduces a new s

We ate the world's spiciest tortilla chip, and New! 2019-09-17 15:28:27 Read more... More about Video, Spicy, Taste Test, One Chip Challenge, and Culture

Here are the top 10 returning TV shows New! 2019-09-17 15:20:16With fall comes the return of television's current classics. And to help you keep up with what's coming soon, we've compiled a list for you. Read m

Lab-created embryos may revive population of near-extinct white New! 2019-09-17 15:19:34There are currently two white rhinos in the world, both female. However, with the idea to create new life through IVF, a group of scientists may have

This AI will tell you what it’s really New! 2019-09-17 15:17:53The AI, which draws its dataset from ImageNet, is being used to show the issues of relying on technology to make judgements of humans. Read more...Mor

Milo Yiannopoulos banned from furry convention New! 2019-09-17 15:16:34Yiannopoulos has found himself in hot water for associating with white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, as well as supporting pedophilia. When the controve

Hamilton Beach bread makers on sale for $43.99 New! 2019-09-17 15:16:32TL;DR: Buy the multifunctional Hamilton Beach HomeBaker two-pound bread maker for $43.99 at Walmart. That saves you 37% on a quality automatic bread m

We tried chips made from the hottest pepper New! 2019-09-17 15:03:45The #OneChipChallenge is back, with an all new, hotter-than-hell chip made with the hottest pepper on the planet, the Carolina Reaper.  Read more

The Next Web

How to build a production and recording studio New! 2019-09-17 15:38:41Welcome to TNW Basics, a collection of tips, guides, and advice on how to easily get the most out of your gadgets, apps, and other stuff. Anyone

The Offspring becomes latest band to play a New! 2019-09-17 13:53:35Punk band The Offspring are going to be performing a gig in … a mobile game? Yep, they join the ranks of the growing number of performers choos

Facebook identifies secret campaign to influence voters in New! 2019-09-17 12:14:48Earlier today, Facebook announced it had terminated multiple accounts, pages, and groups belonging to two campaigns targeting voters in Iraq and Ukrai

This AI researcher is fighting unsolicited dick pics… New! 2019-09-17 09:46:21For the ongoing series, Code Word, we’re exploring if — and how — technology can protect individuals against sexual assault and hara

CHEAP: What a lovely bunch of sweet deals New! 2019-09-17 09:21:17Welcome to CHEAP, our series about things that are good, but most of all, cheap. CHEAP! Last week was all about the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, but if y

YugaByte’s distributed database gets GraphQL integration, Jepsen testing New! 2019-09-17 09:00:23YugaByte, the open-source distributed database provider, today officially announced the availability of YugaByte DB 2.0. YugaByte is both an SQL and N

Deloitte is testing Bitcoin in its canteen — New! 2019-09-17 08:21:40“Big four” accountancy firm Deloitte is allowing staff to buy lunch with Bitcoin as a means of testing its usefulness, Luxembourg Times re

Didn’t Major in Computer Science? This $40 Training New! 2019-09-17 08:00:00You’ve still got time to get in on the bull rush of data science possibilities with the training from The Complete Computer Science Master Class

Canada’s Revenue Agency is now curious about defunct New! 2019-09-17 07:35:39Canada’s Revenue Agency is now looking into the corporate tax returns submitted by QuadrigaCX, the troubled cryptocurrency which collapsed earli

Xiaomi unveils its Android-powered 65-inch Mi TV 4X New! 2019-09-17 07:06:29At an event in Bangalore, India, today, Xiaomi launched a range of premium smart TVs, including the 65-inch Mi TV 4X, which comes with Android 9.0 and

MoviePass is effectively dead and will shut down 2019-09-13 19:22:59If you’re still a Movie Pass subscriber for some reason, it appears tonight is your last chance to use the service. In an “I hope no one n

How WSDG and Gimlet built world-class podcast recording 2019-09-13 18:32:32Picture a professional recording studio. What do you see? Perhaps a band rocking out in an acoustically treated room, or a vocalist singing softly int


Researchers Overwhelm Canadian Government With Marijuana Research Requests New! 2019-09-17 14:00:00After becoming just the second country to legalize marijuana nationwide, Canada has the potential to lead the world in cannabis research - if they can

This Founder of a Marketing Agency Shares His New! 2019-09-17 13:30:00Plus, here's the importance of establishing and maintaining a culture in your company.

How Johnathan Ruggiero's Search for a 'Manly' Wedding New! 2019-09-17 13:00:00And why his proudest moment was crucial to the company's success.

'If You Doubt Yourself, You're Dead': How Serial New! 2019-09-17 12:00:00Kathleen Griffith talks business and fearlessness with Jaclyn Johnson, founder of Create & Cultivate.

Learn Mobile App Design from a Top Instructor New! 2019-09-17 10:30:00Create your own apps from scratch and break into the billion-dollar app design industry.

Become a Better Leader By Helping Your Team New! 2019-09-17 09:00:00Here's how to instill a sense of calm and balance in employees.

MMA Pioneer Discusses Scaling a Content Business New! 2019-09-17 08:30:00Here's how the MMA team is working to scale its digital sports content.

Marijuana Labs Adding Tests Targeting Vitamin E Acetate New! 2019-09-17 08:00:00In the wake of recent vaping-related illnesses and deaths, cannabis testing labs are targeting an additive that's been linked to the unfortunate even

Time Management Is Actually a Waste of Time New! 2019-09-17 07:15:00Here's how you should manage your efforts instead.

What You Should Know About Regulations For CBD 2019-09-16 17:30:00There are lots of key words on those labels, so here are the most important ones to know about.

Entrepreneur Insider Live Event: How to Make More 2019-09-16 17:02:00Leverage expert strategies to improve your social media strategy and engagement, plus network with editors from Entrepreneur magazine.

How to Humanize Your Brand to Win on 2019-09-16 16:30:00It doesn't matter how big your reach is if your audience won't engage with your content.

Disclaimer and Notice:WorldProNews.com is not responsible of these news or any information published on this website.