I am writing on behalf of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) to express our great interest in nanotechnology in relation to food.
The Institute itself will be submitting detailed comments, but meanwhile we asked Dr Morris, who is an expert in this field, to write a personal comment which would serve as a basis on which we could expand our "official" contribution and also serve as an indication of what he could bring to the working group. I append his comments below.
Prof J Ralph Blanchfield, MBE
Chair, External Affairs, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Webmaster / Web Editor, Institute of Food Science and Technology
May I introduce myself: My name is Vic Morris and I work here at the Institute of Food Research. I am a fellow of the IFST. Following discussions with Barbara Lund I am enclosing a short article expressing my views of possible applications of nanotechnology in food. I would be happy if this was used as a submission to the RS & RAE working group. I think it makes a number of key points.
1. Biological manipulation of polymers and polymeric assemblages should be
considered as nanoscience and nanotechnology.
2. There is thus a need to encourage greater collaboration between physical scientists involved in nanoscience and the molecular biology
3. The food industry should be considering targets for the use of new nanofabricated materials.
If the IFST considered nominating someone to contribute to the working group
then I would be happy to be put forward. My expertise seems appropriate and
I would hope I could be an adequate representative of the IFST. I am qualified
as physicist (F Inst P) and chemist (FRSC) and have worked as a researcher in
the food area for about 25 years. For a large part of that time I have collaborated
with molecular biology groups. During this time I have published about 270 research
papers. I have been involved in joint research on the controlled modification
of new polysaccharides through genetic engineering methods. I worked on the
development and application of probe microscopies in food and biological systems
for about 16 years, and have used these techniques to identify new molecular
structures and interactions in food systems for the first time at the nanoscale
level, and I would consider this nanoscience. Some of this work is detailed
on my website www.ifr.bbsrc.ac.uk/spm
. I am the author of the first textbook describing biological applications of
atomic force microscopy in biology. I hope the enclosed is of some value.
The Institute of Food Science and Technology, through its Technical and Legislative Committee and its Public Affairs Committee, considers that nanotechnology is already, and in future will increasingly be, a valuable technological tool in relation to food,
The present molecular biology techniques of genetic modification of crops are already forms of what has been termed "near-term nanotechnology", but we can envisage nanotechnology providing future development of far more precise and effective methods of, and other forms of, manipulation of food polymers and polymeric assemblages to provide "tailormade" improvements to food quality and food safety.
In relation to microbiological foodborne disease, bacteriophage typing and similar typing (based on nano-scale structures of bacteria) have been used for many years (nearly 50) for epidemiological purposes, and have enabled us to recognize food poisoning outbreaks and understand the way in which they have occurred. Interest is increasing in the use of DNA microarrays as an aid to the characterization of bacteria, providing a further sophisticated epidemiological tool. These are techniques on the nano scale that are tools by which we can continue to combat foodborne disease.
However, some microorganisms play an important part in production of many foods, and we can envisage improved quality, process efficiency and safety through their manipulation by nanotechnology.
There is already extensive research on the use of magnetic nano-particles, often in fluid form, in the biosciences (see for example Safarík and Safaríkova (2002) "Magnetic Nanoparticles and Biosciences", Monatshefte für Chemie, 133, 737-759) (review, in English) http://www.uek.cas.cz/people/safarik/1-Monatsheft2002.pdf . We can envisage the application of this nanotechnique in relation to food, particularly in separation and purification procedures.
We can envisage the use of nanotechnology in the development of "tailor-made" food packaging materials with specific properties and performance required for the more effective protection and storage life of different foods.These developments will require close collaboration among molecular biologists, physicists, physical chemists, microbiologists and food scientists.
As with any relatively new technology there will be fears by some and problems, actual or speculative. There will be the need for risk assessments, and for appropriate regulatory controls.. However, the purpose of risk assessment does not end with carrying it out. We (society and scientists as part of society) are not disinterested bystanders merely trying to assess problems. We should be doing so in order to address and solve those problems. Science is society's tool for doing that. Only in this way may the potential benefits be realised.