Monday, April 25, 2011

Nanotech A-Go-Go

Here are a couple of wildly different stories that show a potential future benefits as our ability to examine and manipulate matter at microscopic scales improves.

The first involves plastic made not from petroleum, but from plant fibers.  Plastics made from "nano-cellulose" fibers can be several times stronger than similar plastics while being around a third lighter.  Potentially even more importantly, in addition to being totally renewable the plant based substance is biodegradable.  Though the researchers are currently targeting automotive applications, it isn't too big a leap to imagine a world where you throw your spent drink bottle into the mulch pile rather than the recycle bin.

Second, a potential weapon in the quest to replace increasingly ineffective antibiotics.  Now biology isn't my field, but if I'm reading this correctly, researchers are working on substances that can attack bacterial cells physically rather than chemically (though at the scales we are talking that distinction is a blurry one) which should be much harder for the bacteria to develop a resistance toward.  In other words, our poisons are beginning to stop working, so we are switching to knives.  They have designed synthetic, charged polymers which can break open the cell walls of bacteria, killing them.  So far the compounds are showing promise against several forms of antibiotic resistant bacteria, including the current media darling methicillin resistant staph (MRSA).

1 comment:

Lee said...

Cool cool cool. Thanks for sharing those. Great analogy about moving from poison to knives.

The replacement of petroleum with plant fiber would be huge.