My aunt is passionate about sewing. When I was a young child, I was always amazed by her carefully-crocheted needlecraft. She used to tell me that the secret behind her mesmerizing work were the tiny layers of thread embedded in these stitched embroideries. “Kaisa, ang mga pinakagamay pa nga mga butang ang ginagamit para makaubra sang mga manami nga kagamitan. (Sometimes, it is the smallest and tiniest objects that are utilized to create impactful tools.)” The notion that “small components create big innovations” is not simply contained in the realm of sewing. Biologists too have investigated the potential of small-sized particles for manufacturing medicinal, agricultural, and food-related technologies. This field of science, known as nanobiotechnology, uses atomic or molecular particles with a size below 100 nm to produce state-of-the-art materials with “novel properties” (Singh et al. 2017). To better understand and appreciate the concept of nanobiotechnology, let us delve into the basics of this field of study, and scan through its various societal and scientific benefits. The Secret behind Nanobiotechnology If the secret “ingredient” behind my aunt’s sewn masterpieces are the tiny threads, the core element of nanobiotechnological innovations are the nanoparticles (NPs). NPs possess distinctive properties in terms of “color, solubility, strength, diffusivity, toxicity, magnetic, optical, and thermodynamic properties” (Singh et al. 2017). But the most noteworthy property of NPs are their penetration capabilities. Due to their overwhelmingly miniature size, NPs can pass through tissues, cellular membranes, and molecules to carry out numerous intracellular or intramolecular functions — a feat that macroparticles cannot achieve (Singh et al. 2017, He et al. 2019, Chen & Liang 2020). Now that we have a quick overview of the fundamental particles behind nanobiotechnology, one may ask: “How can these small and peculiar particles have a tangible impact on our lives and communities?” A Tangible Impact? Although they are small, the applications of nanoparticles are wide-scale and almost limitless. The first integral application of nanobiotechnology lies in the field of food processing. The food in our refrigerators or dining tables can be infested by microbes, toxins, and other contaminants (Singh et al. 2017). As mentioned earlier, NPs can penetrate through molecules without directly altering their structures. Researchers have considered utilizing these particles to encapsulate or coat the molecules in food products. This process, known asnanoencapsulation, protects food molecules from moisture, heat, biological degradation (decaying), and physical contaminants (Singh et al. 2017). Nanoencapsulation also ensures that the compounds responsible for the flavor and odor of the food are properly coated and masked. This can bring a perfect taste and aroma to our dishes! Aside from the processing of food products, nanotechnology is also highly relevant for the agricultural sector. For example, nanoencapsulation is also used to properly coat herbicide and pesticide molecules (He et al. 2019). Since the nanoscopic particles cover and coat these molecules, farmers are able to keep their crops protected from pests and invasive herbs, without severely harming the environment or depositing large amounts of pesticide chemicals to the soil (He et al. 2019). Another agricultural benefit of nanobiotechnology is the creation of nanofertilizers. Most of the time, traditional fertilizers cannot effectively pass their nutrients to the plant they are supposed to fertilize. Fortunately, nanofertilizers have precise nutrient incorporation rates (He et al. 2019). The small size of NPs ascertain that high levels of nutrients are taken and absorbed by the crops. From herbicides to fertilizers, nanobiotechnology is truly revolutionizing our farming practices! But that’s not all that nanobiotechnology offers. The last significant application of this field of study is found in the medicinal and pharmaceutical sector, particularly in the concept of antiviral drugs (Chen & Liang 2020). In recent years, viruses have grown more resistant to conventional medicines and clinical treatments. With the continuous spread of resistant microbes, more and more people are placed at risk of contracting serious viral illnesses (Chen & Liang 2020). Thankfully, scientists have studied nanoparticles as a potential remedy to virus-based diseases. Using their small size and penetration capabilities, NPs can either bind onto virus cells or enter their cellular structures. Once the nanoparticles have attached or entered the virus, they can inhibit virus cells from multiplying (Chen & Liang 2020). This will render the resistant virus useless, and enable our bodies’ immune system to defend us more effectively against viral diseases. Is it not amazing? Nanobiotechnology is such a promising study that it is being applied not only in scientific research, but also in our lives and communities. It benefits not only scientists, researchers, and innovators, but also common citizens who face food shortages, agricultural problems, and medical illnesses. Undoubtedly, this branch of science has a tangible impact on our day-to-day activities. It serves as a potential solution for many of our current social issues. This begs the question: what lies for the future of nanobiotechnology? Sewing a Bright Future As we traverse to a future filled with more novel tools and innovative technologies, we can surely expect that nanobiotechnology will still be a crucial concept. With a projected global economic impact of 3 trillion dollars, nanotechnology is slowly emerging as the pivotal branch of science for the decades to come (He et al. 2019). Thus, researchers across the world have already established agencies and departments to pioneer studies in nanobiotechnology. “Sometimes, it is the smallest and tiniest objects that are utilized to create impactful tools.” My aunt’s quote resonates with me when I think about the power of nanobiotechnology. Truly, the small and tiny nanoparticles can be our keys to manufacturing novel products and producing state-of-the-art technologies that will impact our lives, solve social issues, and shape our world for the better. Nanobiotechnology is the tiny thread of tomorrow, and we are tasked to use this thread for sewing a brighter future.
Chen, L., & Liang, J. (2020). An overview of functional nanoparticles as novel emerging antiviral therapeutic agents. Materials Science & Engineering C. 112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msec.2020.110924.
He, X., Deng, H., & Hwang, H. (2019). The current application of nanotechnology in food and agriculture. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis. 27(1):1-21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfda.2018.12.002.
Singh, T., Shukla, S., Kumar, P., Wahla, V., Bajpai, V., & Rather, I. (2017). Application of nanotechnology in food science: perception and overview. Front Microbiol. 8:1501. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2017.01501.