The term ‘Nanotechnology’ was described by Taniguchi first time in 1974 and explained it as “Nanotechnology is the science which deals the synthesis and application of Nano-size particles”. The nanoparticle size ranges from 1 to 100 nm. The production of engineered nano-materials is a scientific breakthrough in material design and nanoscience has developed significantly during the last decade as it has transitioned from worktable to various applied fields like agricultural and environmental sustainability, food industries, medicine and cosmetics. For instance, silver nanoparticles alone are used as antimicrobial agents and useful in medical devices, cosmetics, electronics and household appliances.

Nanotechnology has emerged as a vital tool to explore several avenues of science and technology research and promises a pool of opportunities in areas of agriculture, medicine and healthcare, biotechnology, materials and manufacturing, energy, information technology in conjunction with the national security. Nanotechnology is projected to become a $1 trillion market in near future and employ about 2 million workers and more than 475 nanotechnology products.

Nano-materials exhibit special physical and chemical properties that make them interesting for novel, environmentally friendly products. Due to the significant contribution of nano-technological products, processes and applications in environmental and climate protection, we save raw materials, energy, water and reduced greenhouse gases and hazardous wastes. Nanotechnologies are proving as more helpful in improvement and revolutionize many technologies in agriculture sector, food safety, medicine, transportation, energy, environmental science and among many others.

Applications in Agriculture: There is no second opinion that agriculture is a backbone of most developing countries and around 60% population of those countries relies on it for their livelihood. Currently, the most imperative challenges faced by global agriculture include changing climate, urbanization, sustainable use of natural resources, environmental issues like accumulation of pesticides and fertilizers, and increasing resistance of fungal pathogens to fungicides. Similarly, agriculture scientists and farmer face many challenges like low nutrient use efficiency, biotic and abiotic stress problems and water availability. Nanotechnology addresses many solutions for these problems due to having unique characteristics. Nanotechnology constructs various nanostructures that contain unique mechanical, chemical and physical properties. Some examples are recently synthesized electrochemically active carbon nano-tubes (CNTs), nano-fibers and fullerenes that are used as highly sensitive bio-chemical sensors. These Nano-sensors are used for sustainable agriculture, particular for soil analysis, pesticide and nutrient delivery, water management and delivery, easy bio-chemical sensing and control. The involvement of nanotechnology in farming systems has optimistic visions for improvement of nutrient efficiency through the use of Nano-formulations of fertilizers, development of new-generation pesticides and their carriers, surveillance and control of pests and diseases, contravention yield barriers through bio-nanotechnology, understanding mechanisms of host-parasite interactions at the molecular level, strengthening of natural fibers, removal of contaminants from soil and water, improving the shelf-life of vegetables and flowers etc. From sowing to harvest, a major problem is stress (drought or saline) on crops. Silver and silicon (Nano-SiO2) nanoparticles improve seed germination, growth and development of different plant species under saline conditions which show significant effects on crop production in agricultural sector. Nanotechnology also has a keystone role in the plant disease management. Various nanoparticles have antifungal and antibacterial activities which improve plant resistance against many fungal and bacterial diseases as compare to macro-particles. Copper nanoparticles showed significant antifungal activity against F. oxysporum, F. culmorum and F. equisetai which are considered most notorious fungal pathogens of crops worldwide. Many carbon-based nanomaterial’s such as nanotubes, fullerenes and graphene oxide show antifungal activity against two plant pathogenic fungi Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium poae. Moreover, nano-particles i.e. gold and tungsten nano-particles are largely used in genetic engineering of the plants through gene gun technique for transformation of gene of interest into the plant genomes.

Applications in Food Technology: Nanotechnology plays a keystone role having on several aspects of food science and technology, from ‘how food is grown’ to ‘how it is packaged’ and the processes in between. Many companies are using Nano-materials that will make modification in the taste, safety and health benefits of food. Zinc oxide nanoparticles can be integrated into plastic packaging to block UV rays, provide anti-bacterial protection and also improving the strength and stability of the plastic film employed for food packaging and preservation. Researchers are using silicate nanoparticles to provide a barrier to gasses and moisture in a plastic film used for packaging. This could reduce the possibly of food spoiling or drying out. Storage bins are being produced with silver nanoparticles embedded in the plastic. The silver nanoparticles kill bacteria from any material that was previously stored in the bins, minimizing health risks from harmful bacteria and increasing the storage time of various food items. Nanosensors are being developed that can detect bacteria and other contaminants i.e. Salmonella, at a packaging plant.

Application in Medicine field: The use of nanotechnology in the field of medicine could revolutionize the way we detect human diseases and treat the damage to the human body in the future. First and most important application of nanotechnology in the medicine field is the employment of nanoparticles for delivering drug, light, heat, and/or other substances to specific types of cells. Nanoparticles can help to deliver medication directly to cancer cell and minimize the damage to the healthy tissue. It dramatically reduces the toxic effect of chemotherapy as well. For the detection of targeted sequences of nucleic acid, the gold nanoparticles are approved as probes. Gold nanoparticles are also investigated for their role in the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Nano-medicine can improve the vaccination methodology such as delivery of vaccines without needle use. Novel gene sequencing technologies are also introduce by nanotechnology that enable the detection of single molecule with minimum sample preparation and instrumentation that work at low cost and high speed. This will enable the scientists to detect genetic mutations involved in genetic diseases and modification of genetic material through gene therapy.

Application in Cosmetics and Skin Care: Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide nanoparticles block the ultraviolet rays and minimizing their effects on the white coating of the skin. Similarly, Ethosomes are lotions that use nanoparticles to deliver nutrients that promote hair growth. Different companies like Antaria, Elsom Research, Sinere and Marie Louis Cosmetics use various nanoparticles in their products such as sunscreen, anti-aging cream and growth products. In some skincare lotions, the nutrients are encapsulated in nanoparticles, making up nanoemulsions. As compare to conventional emulsions, nanoemulsion due to small size of nanoparticles, allows the nanoparticles to penetrate deeper into the skin, delivering the nutrients to more layers of skin cells.

It is concluded that the relevant information regarding nano-products has revealed that nanotechnology has potential prospects of use and application in the detection, diagnosis and management of plant diseases. Nanomaterials, nanotubes and nanocapsules can efficiently carry higher concentration of active ingredients of pesticides, host resistance including chemicals, polyamine synthesis inhibitors. Enzyme based biosensors coated with nanoparticles of Au, Ag, Co, Ti, etc may help in diagnosis of plant infection. Minimizing the adverse effects of pesticides on human health and environment is an important aspect taken care by nanotechnology. Similarly, nanotechnologies have a vast application in environmental protection, food related industries like storage, preservation and packaging of food, in medical sciences to deliver medication directly to cancer cell and minimize the damage of healthy tissue and in cosmetics. However, there is an urgent need for a systematic evaluation of the potential effect of nanotechnology. Therefore, it is recommended that the eco-toxicological effect of nanomaterial be clarified before their application.

This article is collectively authored by Sittara Naz & Dr. Muhammad Amjad Ali.