BBSRC Response to the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Study

1. Definition of Bionanotechnology

Bionanotechnology sits at the interface between the chemical, biological and the physical sciences. It is concerned with nanometre scale systems that may be produced from either a top down approach, where larger units are disassembled, or a bottom up approach involving component assembly. Utilizing nanofabrication and or processes of molecular self-assembly, nanotechnology allows the preparation of a range of materials and devices including tissue and cellular engineering scaffolds, molecular motors, and arrays of biomolecules for sensor, drug delivery and mechanical applications.

2. Bionanotechnology Opportunities, Scientific Challenges, Potential Applications

Bionanotechnology offers significant opportunities and challenges to scientists. There are a number of technical challenges associated with working at the micro, let alone the nano, scale. The chemical and physical properties, for example the magnetism and viscosity, of molecules differs at the nanoscale compared to the macro scale. This is a significant challenge for those working in nanotechnology. Another challenge that is faced when working at the nanoscale is the difficulty of manipulating individual molecules.

However, the opportunities that exist are greater than the challenges. Some of these might be:

3. Research Priorities

BBSRC-funded research in bionanotechnology is supported under the remit of the Engineering and Biological Systems Committee. The areas identified by the Committee as priority in the field of bionanotechnology, and supported by the academic community at a symposium (Annex 1) were:


4. Ethical Implications of Bionanotechnology

Public perception of nanotechnology is an increasingly important concern for BBSRC. In particular, bionanotechnology and the use of DNA in non-natural forms have begun to attract the attention of the media. To begin to address the concerns of the public and pressure groups, a public meeting was held early in 2003 (Annex 2), hosted by the Royal Institution and supported by BBSRC, the Institute of Nanotechnology and the Times Higher Education Supplement. This meeting brought together a diverse group of scientists, funding bodies, environmentalists and the public. This meeting highlighted ethical concerns over nanotechnology and will be used to inform future policy decisions.

In addition, BBSRC has established an independent Group to advise it on issues of potential concern to the public, a stated aim of BBSRC highlighted in the current Strategic Plan. Members of the Group are invited to take part in a personal capacity but are selected to provide BBSRC with an insight into the perspectives of industry, bio-scientists, bioethicists and the general public. An important role of the Group is to identify broad areas of concern and public interest that it considers should be addressed by the Council through any of its funding mechanisms. BBSRC often invites the Group to provide advice on BBSRC’s evidence to public consultations.

The Group's responsibilities are to:

The Group also considers and advises BBSRC about grant awards that in the opinion of the Research Committees may raise ethical, social or other issues that could cause public mis-understanding or concern. BBSRC may require researchers to respond to specific points raised by the Group and may refer to BBSRC Council for further advice. All BBSRC grantholders are required to provide evidence that they have considered the potential social and ethical implications of their research and to provide to BBSRC a non-technical summary of the aims and objectives of their research.

Annex 1


Annex 2