Think of the tiny robots swimming through your blood vessels all over your body and fighting your enemies. Fascinating! Isn't it? The picture you are having in your mind right at this moment could be possible only because of the blessings of nanotechnology. When you apply genetic engineering in microorganisms, say bacteria, to attain your goal of curing various types of problems that living organisms might have, can be termed as nanobiotechnology. To define nanotechnology, it is stated that nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications.
Nanoparticles are actually much too small to see with your eyes, or even with a typical light microscope. At the nanoscale, materials can behave in different and unexpected ways. For example, gold is yellow in color, but at the microscale of 25 nm size, they appear red. The target of the researchers in this field is to harness these different and unexpected behaviors of the nanoparticles to make new technologies, namely nanotechnology. Today, we will see how nanotechnology can involve biotechnology and what nanobiotechnology has to offer for us.
You need not necessarily engineer microbes for nanobiotechnology every time. Even small nanoparticles could be used to deliver drugs in human bodies, to clear environmental pollutants etc. all of which could be taken under the umbrella of nanobiotechnology. This technology is being heralded as the key to new cancer treatments, energy independence, and bringing clean water to third world countries. The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was formed to support every sort of work regarding nanotechnology. They have described the four generations of nanotechnology development: The first one is of passive nanostructures which incorporate nanostructures like coatings, composites etc. The second generation is of active nanostructures that are bioactive, physico-chemically active and can have potential health effects such as targeted drugs. The third generation is of systems of nanosystems that perform guided assembling, networking, robotics and evolutionary works. The fourth and current generation of nanotechnology is of molecular nanosystems such as molecular devices 'by design'. So, from the hierarchy of the generations, it is obvious that there is an immense possibility of applying nanotechnology in living systems and for the well-being of humans, which we are considering- nanobiotechnology. This nanobiotechnology holds promise not only for effective applications in humans, but also in plants and in environment. Carbon nanotubes, for example, have shown promise as regulators of seed germination and plant growth.
Nanomedicine could, indeed, bring a revolution in medicine and health science. Think of cancer! There is chemotherapy available to treat this deadly disease. However, this treatment is not an eventual solution. It not only targets the cancerous cells but also damages the healthy ones which could be fatal. A new tumor-targeting nanoparticle-based compound called BIND-014 is now in clinical trials in humans after its successful application in both mice and monkeys.
This trial, so far, is not having any obvious major safety setbacks, stated in a paper published online on April 4 in Science Translational Medicine. Again, nanoparticles can help prevent heart attacks! Nanobodies have been designed to identify vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques in blood vessels and can be cured before it becomes really alarming. Recently, nanoparticle-derived RNAi (RNA interference) drugs are being used to stop head and neck cancer growth. Now a days, emerging technologies and highly integrative approaches such as systems biology and 'omics that have been proven highly successful for the production of proteins and secondary metabolites are having a great potential to produce nanostructured materials with tailored properties. In the biomedical context, the nanotechnology offers potential in a spectrum of specific applications in diagnosis and therapy including imaging, biosensing, regenerative medicine, drug delivery and gene therapy. So, you can observe nanobiotechnology as "Nanotechnology through Biotechnology". In this regard, microbial cells are ideal producers of a diversity of nanostructures and they are capable to do so because of their wide physiological diversity and controlled culturability. Very recently, scientists have engineered bacteria to transport nanoparticles and drugs in human body which could take us to a very advanced stage of biomedical science in the upcoming years, you never know!
The writer is a Lecturer of the Department of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Dhaka.