Brussels, 12 Apr 2005
A leading medical ethics think tank - the Canadian program on genomics and global health (CPGGH) - has published a new report ranking the ten emerging nanotechnology applications with the greatest potential to improve people's lives in the developing world.
The report's authors asked an international panel of 63 experts which applications they felt will be most likely to benefit developing countries over the next decade in certain key areas: water, agriculture, nutrition, health, energy and the environment.
Almost unanimously, the panellists selected energy production, conversion and storage, along with the creation of alternative fuels, as the area where nanotechnology is most likely to benefit poorer countries. Nano-structured materials are being used to create a new generation of solar cells, hydrogen fuel cells and novel storage systems that will deliver clean energy in place of fossil fuels.
'Economic development and energy consumption are inextricably linked,' explains team member and CPGGH co-director Peter Singer. 'If nanotechnology can help developing countries to move towards energy self-sufficiency, then the benefits of economic growth will become that much more accessible.'
Second on the list is agricultural productivity enhancement, whereby nanotechnologies are being applied to help increase soil fertility and crop yields, thereby tackling malnutrition, which contributes to more than half the deaths of children under five in the developing world. Specific applications include technologies for the slow and efficient release of fertilisers for crops, and nano-sensors to monitor the health of farm animals.
Water treatment technologies were placed third by the panel. 'One sixth of the world's population lacks access to safe water supplies,' says team leader Fabio Salamanca-Buentello. Researchers are developing portable and inexpensive systems based on nano-membranes and nano-clays that can purify, detoxify and desalinate water more efficiently than conventional filters.
Also featuring prominently in the list of ten is disease diagnosis, which comes fourth. The report looks forward to the day when health workers in remote locations in the developing world can put a drop of patients' blood on a coin-sized piece of plastic (the so called lab-on-a-chip), and within minutes receive the results of a full set of blood tests as well as analysis for infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and even cancer.
Completing the top ten are drug delivery systems; food processing and storage; air pollution remediation; construction; health monitoring; and vector and pest detection and control.
According Dr Singer: 'Most waves of technology can increase the gap between rich and poor, but the harnessing of nanotechnology represents a chance to close these gaps. [...] Nanotechnology is a relatively new field that will soon be providing radical and relatively inexpensive solutions to critical development problems.'
Another CPGGH co-director, Abdallah Daar, adds: 'Resource-rich member nations of the international community have a self-interest and a moral obligation to support the development and use by less industrialised countries of these top ten nanotechnologies to address key development challenges.'
To facilitate this process, CPGGH proposes establishing an initiative called 'addressing global challenges using nanotechnology', which would target scientific and technological advances for the developing world, starting with the list of ten.
'Our results can provide guidance to developing countries themselves to help target their growing initiatives in nanotechnology. The goal should be to use nanotechnology responsibly to generate real benefits for the 5 billion people in the developing world,' Dr Daar concluded.
To download a copy of the report, please consult the following web address:
http:///www.utoronto.c a/jcb/home/document s/PLoS_nanotech.pdf