Nanoscale particles are not new in either nature or science. However, the recent leaps in areas such as microscopy have given scientists new tools to understand and take advantage of phenomena that occur naturally when matter is organized at the nanoscale. … In addition, the fact that a majority of biological processes occur at the nanoscale gives scientists models and templates to imagine and construct new processes that can enhance their work in medicine, imaging, computing, printing, chemical catalysis, materials synthesis, and many other fields. …
Scale at Which Much of Biology Occurs
Over millennia, nature has perfected the art of biology at the nanoscale. Many of the inner workings of cells naturally occur at the nanoscale. For example, hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen through the body, is 5.5 nanometers in diameter. A strand of DNA, one of the building blocks of human life, is only about 2 nanometers in diameter.
Drawing on the natural nanoscale of biology, many medical researchers are working on designing tools, treatments, and therapies that are more precise and personalized than conventional ones—and that can be applied earlier in the course of a disease and lead to fewer adverse side-effects. One medical example of nanotechnology is the bio-barcode assay, a relatively low-cost method of detecting disease-specific biomarkers in the blood, even when there are very few of them in a sample. The basic process, which attaches “recognition” particles and DNA “amplifiers” to gold nanoparticles, was originally demonstrated at Northwestern University for a prostate cancer biomarker following prostatectomy. The bio-barcode assay has proven to be considerably more sensitive than conventional assays for the same target biomarkers, and it can be adapted to detect almost any molecular target.
Growing understanding of nanoscale biomolecular structures is impacting other fields than medicine. Some scientists are looking at ways to use nanoscale biological principles of molecular self-assembly, self-organization, and quantum mechanics to create novel computing platforms. Other researchers have discovered that in photosynthesis, the energy that plants harvest from sunlight is nearly instantly transferred to plant “reaction centers” by quantum mechanical processes with nearly 100% efficiency (little energy wasted as heat). They are investigating photosynthesis as a model for “green energy” nanosystems for inexpensive production and storage of nonpolluting solar power. Full Post at Nano.gov