Every new technology is a potential tool for good or evil nanotechnology dangers are also possible. Our responsibility as propagators of each new technology is to be informed about their possibilities and act accordingly.
As we investigate the new realm of nanotechnology, it becomes necessary to realize that this new field offers both miraculous potential and also nightmare effects.
The issue is pressing because economic concerns often win out over health considerations. Nanotechnology is no exception; products that have been submitted to scanty research are already making slow but steady breakthroughs into the marketplace.
Billions of dollars have already been spent on development and advertising. Far less has been spent on investigating the ways in which these nano-products interact with humans and their environment.
It’s easy enough for quality control experts to make a mistake here. Nanoparticles behave much differently than do their larger elemental counterparts; for example, graphite is classified as having a certain level of toxicity, but nano-carbon, although technically graphite renders none of the same effects.
The problem is that this can also work in the opposite way. A seemingly harmless element is broken down and engineered on the molecular level until it has become more dangerous than its original parent material, without anyone suspecting that such a drastic transformation has taken place.
One chilling example of this phenomenon involves fullerenes. Tiny nano-elements, they were once believed to be relatively harmless. Research conducted in 2004 with ongoing ramifications indicates that the opposite is true; researchers exposed fish to a dose of fullerene at 0.5 parts per million for a mere 48 hours and found that the fish sustained extensive brain damage.
More than this, their entire physiology was changed the fullerenes had changed the reproductive code as well as key genetic markers in the livers of the fish, indicating that future generations would be susceptible to hereditary handicaps. And just to make sure that the test results really were as horrific as they seemed to be, researchers then applied the fullerene dose to water fleas, a key link in the marine food chain. The water fleas died almost instantly.
Fullerenes are present in many innocuous products, one of which is fertilizer. This is especially concerning in light of the fish research results, since fullerenes travel freely through soil and can be absorbed and magnified in the bodies of earthworms. Earthworms affect the soil in which vegetables are grown, meaning that fullerenes have a free shot at entering the human food chain.
While we may not be as easily warped as fish, it is certain that if exposed to enough trace amounts of any harmful nanochemical such as fullerene our brains would suffer some form of damage.
This potential danger is one of the factors that has spurred researchers to call for better investigation of nanotechnologically-produced substances before they are allowed to enter our everyday lives. Unfortunately, some elements of society regard the short-term monetary benefits as more important than long-term societal ramifications.
It stands to reason that nanoparticles can penetrate cells—they are much smaller and more active than the cellular material they seek to penetrate and can literally slip through the cell wall in many cases. Apart from entering our bodies directly in this manner, which they would have no trouble doing, nanoparticles could also get there indirectly by infiltrating the food chain in a number of ways.
This includes not only the aforementioned example with the earthworm, but also the fact that nanoparticles could “piggyback” on bacteria and protozoa that naturally occur in our food sources. (Have you ever looked at your bologna or your hot dog under a microscope?) We would then be ingesting these particles in large numbers. Since a nanoparticle could be a molecular manifestation of almost any element, including poisons, this is a very serious consideration.
And with little to no regulation in place, there is nothing preventing nanotechnology from unleashing either the next accidental epidemic or failing to prevent the next tool of mass biological warfare.
Nanotechnology dangers, however, are not limited to what we are unknowingly putting into our systems. They also include nano-substances that are being deliberately placed there. One of the foremost of these is nanoblood, also known as respirocytes.
The respirocyte was developed by nano-theorist Robert Freitas and essentially acts as a super-blood cell. It is an artificial, nano-engineered substance that functions like a red blood cell but also gives its host superior abilities because it is made of pure diamond, which enables it to withstand unnaturally high pressure.
It has been estimated that because of the superior performance made possible by its rigid diamond shell, 5 cubic millimeters of respirocytes could replace all the blood in your body.
Those 5 cubic millimeters would also do a better job than your 5.6 liters. Putting large amounts of respirocytes into the body would enable you to hold your breath for hours or sprint for 15 minutes straight. It can improve any natural human function a million times over, extending our ability to see, smell, react, stay awake, and reproduce.
While this may seem fantastic at first to some people and indeed, the military finds it particularly fascinating it ultimately could result in massive problems for the human race. There are preliminary indications that injecting an organism with respirocytes causes hereditary changes and may even magnify the supernatural abilities in its offspring.
You would therefore be creating a generation of supercharged, out-of-control creatures. Tampering with human beings in this manner gives rise to so many ethical violations that it becomes impossible to list them all.
The military has already anticipated implementing a systematic widespread injection of respirocytes into their soldiers at some point between 2010 and 2025, but doctors anticipate that these artificial blood cells could cause overheating and possibly even bio-breakdowns. It also appears that nanoblood, when excreted through the bodily system, has a negative impact on the environment.
All of these considerations are only a taste of the many dangers inherent to nanotechnology. We are on the verge of life-changing discoveries, but whether these are for the betterment of society may be entirely up to how responsible our nanotechnology decisions are.