Research Nanotechnology and Its Potential Use in Biotechnology
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Pharmaceutical companies focused on drugs with a chemical basis. It was sort of an artificial distinction, and is even more so now because pharmaceutical companies haven’t excluded biologics from their portfolios. At one time there were even distinctions in the definitions related to small molecules versus large molecules, but those are largely in the dustbin of biopharma vocabulary. It’s one reason why “biopharma” itself is a useful word to bridge the two, and really, biotech and pharma are largely interchangeable.
Many everyday commercial products are currently on the market and in daily use that rely on nanoscale materials and processes: Nanoscale additives to or surface treatments of fabrics can provide lightweight ballistic energy deflection in personal body armor, or can help them resist wrinkling, staining, and bacterial growth. Clear nanoscale films on eyeglasses, computer and camera displays, windows, and other surfaces can make them water- and residue-repellent, antireflective, self-cleaning, resistant to ultraviolet or infrared light, antifog, antimicrobial, scratch-resistant, or electrically conductive. Nanoscale materials are beginning to enable washable, durable “smart fabrics” equipped with flexible nanoscale sensors and electronics with capabilities for health monitoring, solar energy capture, and energy harvesting through movement. Lightweighting of cars, trucks, airplanes, boats, and space craft could lead to significant fuel savings. Nanoscale additives in polymer composite materials are being used in baseball bats, tennis rackets, bicycles, motorcycle helmets, automobile parts, luggage, and power tool housings, making them lightweight, stiff, durable, and resilient. Carbon nanotube sheets are now being produced for use in next-generation air vehicles. For example, the combination of light weight and conductivity makes them ideal for applications such as electromagnetic shielding and thermal management. Nano-engineered materials in automotive products include high-power rechargeable battery systems; thermoelectric materials for temperature control; tires with lower rolling resistance; high-efficiency/low-cost sensors and electronics; thin-film smart solar panels; and fuel additives for cleaner exhaust and extended range. Nanostructured ceramic coatings exhibit much greater toughness than conventional wear-resistant coatings for machine parts. Nanotechnology-enabled lubricants and engine oils also significantly reduce wear and tear, which can significantly extend the lifetimes of moving parts in everything from power tools to industrial machinery. Nanoparticles are used increasingly in catalysis to boost chemical reactions. This reduces the quantity of catalytic materials necessary to produce desired results, saving money and reducing pollutants. Two big applications are in petroleum refining and in automotive catalytic converters.
Current waste disposal technologies are expensive and require a lot of time to render the waste less harmful. In addition, current processes such as air stripping, carbon adsorption, biological reactors or chemical precipitation produce highly toxic wastes that require further disposal (Karn, Kuiken, & Otto, 2009). Nanoremediation is a new form of waste disposal mechanism that utilizes nanoparticles to detoxify pollutants. nZVI, a nanoscale zero-valent iron has gained widespread use in this area and has been applied in remediating polluted in situ groundwater. This technology has been cited as cost-effective and faster compared to traditional pump-and-treat methods (Karn et al., 2009). Other forms of pollution solutions employ the use of nanocatalysts. Just like biological and chemical catalysts, nanocatalysts speed up chemical reaction leading to decomposition of the reactive species. This is already being used to detoxify harmful vapor in cars and industrial machinery. Notable ongoing projects in pollution control include research on the recycling greenhouse gas emissions using carbon nanotubes (CNT) (Zhao, 2009). For his effort, the researcher for this “green” solution received an $ 85,000 Foundation Research Excellence Award (Zhao, 2009). Nanoparticles have also been used to treat highly polluted industrial waste (Zhao, 2009). Nanotechnology is also aiding in improving current water purification technologies. The technology has made it possible to decrease the membrane pores to nanoscale levels leading to greater filtration power. Nanotechnology has offered promises and potential for development of efficient and long-lasting energy devices. Nanofabricated energy storage compounds have been cited as potentially beneficial as they may serve as replacement for traditional environmentally harmful fossil fuels.
For instance, some nanostructures act as fluorophores or produce other optical effects in the near infrared region of the spectrum of light. In this region of the spectrum, tissues are actually transparent, and coating appropriate nanoparticles with specific biomolecules such as antibodies could potentially help image tissues or even test their function, using such light sources.
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