Environmental Health and Safety Implications of Nanotechnology
Rationale: The unique properties of nanoscale materials that make them attractive from a materials science standpoint may also lead to undesirable biological outcomes. To date, the majority of studies examining the biological effects of engineered nanomaterials have been conducted in cell culture (in vitro) despite the inability of such systems to replicate the multitude of biological processes that may influence their biological effects in whole organisms (in vivo). Therefore, understanding of the influence of nanomaterial properties on biological activity in intact animals is at an early stage. We note that the biogeochemical processing, or weathering, of nanomaterials has the potential to alter their biological activity, but little is currently known about environmental transformations of engineered nanomaterials and the biological effects of weathered nanomaterials.
Mission: To facilitate the development of environmentally benign engineered nanoscale materials, Thrust 4 seeks to identify the properties of these materials that elicit adverse biological responses in vivo during embryonic development. Because biogeochemical processing of engineered nanomaterials may alter their biological activity, Thrust 4 aims to elucidate the fundamental degradation chemistry of nanomaterials and understand how such transformation may alter the biological activity of these materials in the whole animal.
Long-term goals: Key goals of Thrust 4 are to identify mechanisms by which nanomaterials and their weathered products induce adverse biological responses in vivo and to discover the processes by which engineered nanomaterials may be transformed in the environment. A fundamental understanding of the relationship between the structure of engineered nanoscale materials and adverse biological effects and those processes governing transformations of engineered nanomaterials in the environment will facilitate the design of environmentally benign nanomaterials.
Context within the Center: The rapid development of nanotechnology has led to societal concern about the potential for nanoscale materials to adversely affect human health and the environment. Thrust 4 evaluates the chemistry, biological activity and environmental fate of nanomaterials synthesized by Thrusts 1-3.