Nanoparticles: Monkey carrying AK-47 in a glass showroom in a dark night


I often feel a bit sad for poor nCovid19 virus, as I can see that the other pathogens sitting in the hall of fame would be laughing at it for having bragged a lot but not having delivered. But, as I study the way humans have responded to the virus psychologically I feel that there is still hope for nCovid19 to redeem itself and become the white horse of apocalypse.

Human response to nCovid19 is a systemic disaster for biology, but that is not the only problem we are causing. We have now gone one step ahead and have opened a new frontier and that is unleashing brand new forces that we know little about as “solutions” for “dealing with virus”, and The Worst of them is nanomaterial/nanoparticles.

Let me admit that this is not the first time we have been playing with fire, as we have been doing it as a species, almost from the day we started the first fire (and that may be our USP). The problem is, as we are getting more “powerful”, the bigger the fire we play with, and now we could be coming to the end of our or Nature’s tether.

If we take some very recent examples, we were adding lead to fuel to “solve” the problem of knocking in car engines and we had promoted global use of DDT to “solve” the problem of insect pest. It took us long time to understand that neither were a solution and we (hopefully) pulled back just in time before our “solutions” could cause devastation.

The problem is, we have not learnt from these past debacles and are forging ahead with use of nanoparticles, and arrival of nCovid19 has stopped us from thinking and evaluating what they can do.

If you are like me who need to Google everything “science”, let me share what I have already Googled about nanoparticles.

Nano means small and hence these are obviously small-particles. They are found in nature in volcanic ash or even in the spray of water by a wave. As we have become really smart with our physics and chemistry, we can now make our own Engineered Nanoparticles (ENP) too.

While ENP have found various applications in all domains, they are now getting popular with biologists because of their wonderful ability of moving across the biological barriers and membranes.

Biology can be explained using various themes and membranes can be one of the very powerful ideas to do so as biological phenomenon are controlled by these sieves of life that allow and disallow movement of molecules. So a free-agent like a nanoparticle that can violate the boundaries of biology is a great hack one can use for activities like targeted drug delivery or making a species specific pesticide.

The problem is, even though biology has been dealing with naturally found nanoparticles, ENPs are a new challenge that it has not evolved for (and that is why ENPs “work”). So, arrival of ENP can end up catching biology off-guard because its membrane-based process control will be seriously hampered by these bullets that can go through life’s natural armoury.

Thanks to the pandemic, we are mindlessly unleashing products that are using nanoparticles to disinfect, and it is making me have a second nightmare with a monkey.

The life on earth is akin to a wonderful glassware showroom full of strong but fragile glassware that are used to isolate chemical processes, and human species that has manufactured ENPs is like a monkey with an AK-47 entering it in a pitch dark night.

If the monkey is going to start shooting every shadow that moves, it may “kill” a few viruses, but the bullets will shatter many more sieves of life.

Nanoparticles are the latest of the pollutants that we are releasing without thinking things through and the result of this mindless act could be catastrophic for all the life-forms on earth.

If the Grand Dame Nature would get annoyed by our random shooting, She is going to send the monkey packing just as she has done to a trillion different species on Her Planet. So, it is about time the monkey holds its fire and understand the true (anti)nature of its gun before using it.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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