Food is the area where many people draw the line on their love and interest with nanotechnology. Many people will pay a premium just to ensure that their groceries were organically or ethically grown or both, so it's little surprise that they don't even want to imagine ingesting nanoparticles. So before we get too freaked out, let's look at some practical applications for nanotech in food and other consumables.
Packaging and storage: Nanotech food packaging can allow food to last longer by creating a more airtight seal or even killing bacteria in storage systems. Look around. You'll find plenty of refrigerators on the market that use nanosilver coatings to kill bacteria and even in some reusable food storage containers, too.
Taste, color and nutrition: You can do a lot to food at the atomic and molecular levels to alter its taste, appearance and nutrition. Advocates say this could mean engineered foods will offer more nutritional value in an appealing package (a possible benefit for impoverished areas of the world that don't receive adequate nutrition) [source: IOM]. Meanwhile, naysayers don't want to hear anything further after the words "engineered foods" are spoken.
Improving drugs: Let's take diabetes, for example. Nanotubes could one day replace the pinprick blood test, and nanoparticles in medicine could be engineered to release their medications only when blood sugar levels require it [source: Soutter]. Medicine still hasn't reached that point yet, but it's a promising idea that has ramifications for anyone whose medical condition requires a constant dose of medicine, from HIV patients to migraine sufferers.
Author's Note: 5 Things You Should Know About Nanotechnology
As a young kid, I was the one boy on my block who couldn't stand watching the movie "Fantastic Voyage" for the reason that I didn't believe that anything useful could exist at that proposed size. The inner workings of the body at those levels were somewhere on par with unicorns and leprechauns who keep large sums of gold safely tucked away at the feet of rainbows. Granted, that was before I had my mind blown by my Biology 101 class. Today, I can't help but geek out when someone starts talking about the natural world functioning at that level, and how we're fixing things like cancer at the nanoscale. Truly amazing stuff!
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