Nanotechnology has crept into the news here and there without much fanfare. Probably because it's such an intimidating word. So what does nanotechnology have to do with a medical/college town like Ann Arbor? A whole lot actually. Just last week there were 10 different studies concerning nanotechnology breakthroughs that could change the way many medical tests and procedures are conducted.
Science Daily; Your Source for the Latest Technology News, has an entire section dedicated to nanotechnology.
What is nanotechnology? The prefix nano- refers to nanometers which is smaller then micrometers. An example of a micrometer would be a dust mite. An example of a nanometer would be DNA. Now, because we're talking extremely small this will impact everything from science, to medicine, to food.
According to an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (now The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), billions of dollars are available to scientists and their students for researching new food packaging systems that could detect food borne illness and spoilage. With the recent surge of food recalls, this is good to know. To the defense of food companies within the United States, studies have shown that the U.S. has the best regulations and tracking systems compared to other countries. This does not negate the need for hand washing by employees who handle food, and sanitary food packaging procedures. But, it could help in detecting food borne illness before it leaves the packaging site.
Nanolaminates which are layers of food grade film made from carbohydrates, proteins and dietary fats could help protect against oxygen and carbon dioxide degradation.
Nanoemulsions are also being studied to help prevent food degradation. These emulsions are constructed from proteins and could act as biological sensors in food packaging.
Of course, every good thing comes with its challenges. Nano refers to small, very small. A recent report has shown concern over children receiving nanoparticles in the form of titanium dioxide from foods such as marshmallows. The titanium dioxide appears to be coming from materials used in packaging and companies should consider using food grade materials.
Having the means to study particles much smaller than the human eye can see will help improve how we prepare and distribute food and how we diagnose and treat disease.
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