- LONDON (Reuters) - More research
is needed on the potential health and environmental hazards of nanotechnology
to ensure public confidence in the fast-growing industry, British experts
said on Wednesday.
- Nanotechnology, which involves manipulating materials
on an ultra-small scale, has the potential to make better products in fields
from computing to cosmetics to fuel additives.
- But nanoparticles tens of thousands of times smaller
than the width of a human hair could be dangerous if they interact with
the human body or the environment in unexpected ways.
- The British government's top-level advisory body, the
Council for Science and Technology (CST), said the UK had taken an early
lead by commissioning a 2004 report on nanotech but had failed to follow
through with necessary research funding.
- "There has been virtually nothing done by government
to resolve this problem," Professor John Beringer, who chaired a CST
sub-committee assessing nanotech progress, told reporters.
- He argued strategic government funding was justified
by the economic importance of nanoparticles and their peculiar nature.
- Gold, for example, is inert in bulk -- so gold jewelry
does not tarnish -- but when particle size reaches less than 2 billionths
of a meter the yellow metal turns blue and can bind to DNA.
- The CST said government spending on assessing the risks
of such changes had averaged only 600,000 pounds ($1.2 million) annually
in the past five years and a minimum of 5-6 million pounds was needed.
- Britain's science minister Malcolm Wicks acknowledged
more needed to be done and said he was disappointed few researchers had
applied for existing funding.
- The problem is not confined to Britain.
- Andrew Maynard of the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars, welcoming the CST review, said other governments also
fell short, with the United States investing just $11 million on relevant
risk research, despite spending more than $1 billion a year on nanotech
- $1 TRILLION BUSINESS
- Although largely unnoticed by consumers, the use of nanotechology-enabled
products is expanding rapidly.
- The Woodrow Wilson institution counts 360 consumer goods
that now use the know-how -- from laptops to a type of tea enriched with
selenium -- up from around 200 a year ago.
- Beringer said the worldwide market for nanotechnologies
was likely to reach $1 trillion by 2015, a figure some analysts believe
- Independent group Lux Research estimates more than $32
billion in products containing nanomaterials were sold globally in 2005
and projects sales will hit $2.6 trillion by 2014.
- A diverse range of companies are working on this new
frontier of the ultra-small.
- Members of Britain's Nanotechnology Industries Association
include BASF, ICI, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson Matthey, L'Oreal, Procter
& Gamble, Rolls-Royce, Smith & Nephew and Unilever.