Nanobiotechnology: An Introduction
‘Nano’ is the present buzzword among science, technology and even business community. But is it a mere buzzword or has some real practical applications? For the answer to this question, we will have to travel in future (which of course we can’t do). But, at the present times, all leading organizations have identified nanotechnology as their next frontier of research.
Nanotechnology is the technology working at extremely tiny scales (of nanometer dimensions). When you work at this level, you can manipulate atoms, influence chemical reactions and do many other unimaginable things with extremely high precision. It has been proposed that nanotechnology may lead to the production of nanobots which will be able to travel inside the body, interact with each other and even replicate. But, the design and engineering of these nanobots will be extremely tough and demanding. Does it mean that we will have to wait forever to see these nanobots in action?
The answer to the preceding question is simple: No! Nature has everything which we may desire in our so called nanobots. Living organisms can travel inside the body, generate their own power, communicate with each other and best of all, they can replicate. But, the one problem with living organisms which prevents their direct use as nanobots is that they are not able to interact with digital computers, which is a must for nanobots as they need to transfer information between human body and a computer. If nanotechnology can engineer silicon robots and biotechnology can provide replicating organisms, the natural way to realize both functions is to combine both of these fields. Voila! We have Nanobiotechnology.
Nanobiotechnology is the merger of two distant fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology. It uses the concepts, components and processes from both of these fields to create new and novel applications. Already, basic research has began which is well demonstrated by the fact that ATP powered nano-motors have shown to be successfully working. Even though the commercial applications are still unfeasible, research into this field can yield surprises to what we believe is limits of technology.
The potential of Nanobiotechnology is immense. In future, it may be used to engineer nanobots which can act as personalized doctors acting round the clock. Or it may be used to create tiny cell-bombs which seek and destroy tumor cells while making sure that healthy cells are unaffected. Apart from medical applications, this technology may be employed to harvest energy directly from photosynthetic bacteria and convert it into electricity.
But before Nanobiotechnology realizes its full potential, there are many hurdles to overcome. First and foremost is offered by our body itself. The vertebrate immune system battles most of the foreign particles called antigens (such as pathogens, etc.) by producing antibodies which render them inactive. Our body’s immune system will also classify nano-machines inside the body as foreign particles (which they actually are), hence these nano-machines may not work in our bodies unless some special modifications are made.
Ethical and moral issues also haunt this nascent field. Is it ethical to put foreign particles inside the human body? The horror of self-replicating nano-machines going wild is also a debatable issue. This added to fact that since these nano-machines will have biological components, they will also be undergoing natural selection from evolution, which can result in new entities capable of replicating and harming like viruses, bacteria or in their own novel ways.
Once all these issues get fixed up, expect your life to be radically changed. Nanobiotechnology may bring immense paradigm shift that we may wonder that how did we live without it! Expect Nanobiotechnology to be for 21st century what Electronics was for 20th century and what Renaissance was for 15th century.