Food Industry

Published on October 8th, 2010 | by Jeannie Moulton


Nanotech Based Pesticides

Coming your way, nanotech-based pesticides.  Sounds cool.  Could be both beneficial and dangerous.  Certainly must be developed and used responsibly.  Learn about a bit about nanotechnology and its application to pesticides.

Nanotechnology executive summary

Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on the molecular and atomic level.  This is really small – atoms are the basic building blocks of everything we know.  For an idea of how small this is, check out this very cool animation:

Nanotechnology is particularly exciting because controlling things on the atomic level means that we can possibly make materials with any desired properties, fight disease on the DNA level, etc.  Some applications you may already be familiar with: nanoparticles in sunscreen, which increase surface area for reflecting light, and silver nanoparticles in bandaids to help combat infection.

Concerns about nanotechnology

While exciting, there are some serious concerns about nanotechnology.  Relating to silver nanoparticles (which are also used in socks to reduce odor), these can end up in the water supply and kill beneficial bacteria, such as that used in waste water treatment.

Carbon nanotubes, which are the poster-child of nanotechnology, could be incredibly useful in structural engineering and nano-electronics.  However, it is feared that they may have an effect much like that of asbestos when inhaled, becoming permanently lodged in the lungs.

For these reasons, nanotechnology must be used carefully and appropriately assessed for risk.

Nanotech in pesticides

Possible advantages of nano-pesticides are that it might allow better control and delivery of active ingredients, less environmental drift, formulations that will most effectively reach the desired pest, and perhaps better protection for agricultural workers.

While researchers are hopeful, they recognize that they need to be careful.  Let’s hope that corporations who may capitalize on this will take the same amount of responsibility.

A major concern is exposure of the respiratory system to the nanoparticles from pesticides.  Since these are applied outdoors carelessly, the wind may carry the particles quite far since they are so small.  If breathing them in is a problem, having them go airborne is obviously a problem.


People have been made ill and even died from exposure to nanotech, so it should be respected.

In a medical test, nanoparticles were being studied as a better way to deliver a cancer drug, six people out of forty had a toxic response.  Scientists now know to avoid this type of nanotechnology, but something used as widely as pesticides could have more dire consequences.

Let’s not forget that two people in China recently died from inhaling nanoparticles.  We clearly need to be careful.


I wish as a society that we would move away from pesticides, and nanotechnology scares me a bit, especially in an application like pesticides.  I am leery.

What do you think?


Image credit:

Flickr Creative Commons License jurvetson

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About the Author

I spent the last five years earning my PhD in Engineering. I enjoy all types of science and writing, so I am trying out a new career path in science publication and communication. Recently, I have moved to Oxford, England. As an environmentally-conscious person, Oxford is a great place to live...notably there is no car required. I love to talk about vegan cooking, plant-based diets and the benefits of such, so just ask if you are interested. I do ballet for fun and love kitties.

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