Friday, May 05, 2006

When Reality Is Scarier Than Fiction: What We Don't Know About Nano Technology

I will give you my bias now. When it comes to genetic engineering and nano technology I'm completely irrational and scared to death. I attempt to moderate this sense of doom by educating myself to what the learned men and women of real science are up to. For a long time, this has kept most of my drooling terror at bay, but, now, thanks to a pod cast of Science Friday for 4/28/06, I am completely over the edge. Today I speak of nano technology. (When I find out a similar condition exists for genetic engineering, I'll upload another tale of terror).

What is nano technology? It is non-living things which are man made that are so small, they can float around in your body without (supposedly), bothering your 'intruder' defenses, or your immune system. There is great hope for this world of tinsy. Medical critters which can cruise your blood stream and 'eat' up all that bad cholesterol, or other 'problems'. Tinsys which will 'eat' things like PCB's and other environmental scourges. The list of the potential 'good stuff' is long and (like all utopias) inviting, tempting and SHORT SIGHTED!

To my knowledge no man-made utopian scheme which has been tried by real people has worked as envisioned. Literature is full of these tales, fictional and otherwise. Science holds out the promise, that when they find something new, they will TEST IT before releasing it into the consumer marketplace. What will they test it for? Oh, small things like, will it accidentally kill you, if you use it? (poison). Will it kill you if you use it incorrectly? (eating a cosmetic, or a car wax). Over time, will it hurt you? (toxic buildup). These aren't unreasonable questions to ask. Like most of us I ASSUMED they weren't only being asked, but ANSWERED before new products were put out for us to use.

The scientists are checking, but only in a limited way, when it comes to these nano-things. They are checking to see if they irritate the lungs, if inhaled. Good, but they are using this stuff in dentistry (inside your mouth) and haven't checked if when you swallow, you are accidentally introducing them into your bloodstream through your stomach, or tissues on the way to your stomach! (Compared to this reality, no sci fi book I've ever read comes close to this level of fright).

What about cumulative buildup, over time. Maybe one filling won't bother you, but what about when your dentures, or bridge contain nanos? Lead builds up in the human body, with no way to get rid of it. I don't believe nanos leave us either, but, like real scientists I don't know for sure.

Add to this the comforting thought that the word 'nano' is being used as an advertising gimmick. Its presence on a label name, may just mean 'small'. Remember the problem of attempting to find milk without the growth hormone given to the cows? It was written into laws, that companies DID NOT have to declare whether or not this hormone was present or not. God, I love the free market! Same with genetically altered fruits and vegetables. They don't have to inform us if it is real, or 'wacko-tech'. Like everyone else, I've made the adjustment. I buy it, eat it and hope I don't sprout new body parts, on some bright future Friday morning.

We have nanos in dentistry, cosmetics, car wax and clothes. Man, buying second hand may not only be economically intelligent, it may save my life! I know, I'm being irrational and everything will be all right! Sure, can we talk about asbestos? I hearken back to a political campaign between Lyndon Johnson and some republican. Johnson's positive slogan was: "In your heart you know he's right". His opposition shot back: "In your gut, you know he's a nut". We are running way, way too far ahead of ourselves and I fear things I can't see, protect myself from and / or don't understand.

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