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Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the common-sense dept.

Medicine 239

bshell writes "A Canadian panel of leading scientists warns that nanomaterials appearing in a rapidly growing number of products might potentially be able to enter cells and interfere with biological processes. According to a story in the Globe and Mail, the Council of Canadian Academies concluded that 'there are inadequate data to inform quantitative risk assessments on current and emerging nanomaterials... Their small size, the report says, may allow them "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" and, as a result, possibly have "enhanced toxicological effects."' The council is an independent academic advisory group funded by the federal government, but operating at arms-length from Ottawa. The 16-member panel that wrote the new report included some of Canada's leading scientists and top international experts on nanomaterials."

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But remember . . (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152397)

Things like "grey goo" could never really happen.
Hey, man, don't tell me how much dangerous I've thought nanomaterials are. This doesn't surprise me in the least.

Bunch of useless speculation (3, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152435)

Show me some research. Otherwise this is a bunch of pointless worrying, which is what it is at this point.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152557)

Most thought that radiation was harmless or even a cureall after it was first discovered. Dismiss the concern at your own risk.

And they were right about radiation! (5, Insightful)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153875)

Radiation is extremly safe and it does cure many disease that have no alternative treatment. We are bathed in radiation at every second of every day with no ill effects but just like oxygen and water, in excess it will kill you very quickly. Just because it COULD kill you doesn't mean it is dangerous.

If you RTFA you will find that they say nano could enter cells, could cause cancer, could disrupt cellular processes OR it could be perfectly harmless (as harmless as dirt) BUT there isn't enough information to tell.

Personally I think the largest concern with nano is carbon nanotubes because they have the potential to cause the same problems as asbestos. But what is important is to do your due diligence and TEST anthing you want to sell.

There is no reason to fear nano, only to be a little cautious.

Using radiation

Re:And they were right about radiation! Scalos... (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154749)

Well, the worrywarts can daub some Scalosian water on their skins and speed up things a wee bit...

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154141)

And of course nowadays we all know just how magically, terrifying deadly all forms of radioactivity are. It's a good thing, too, or the landscape might be dotted with scary nuclear power plants instead of environmentally-friendly fossil fuel plants. If we had remained in such ignorance, we could be facing a massive global cooling crisis!

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152689)

Show me research, that nanomaterials are safe. Otherwise we shouldn't allow them based on speculation that they are safe.

Seriously, there has been some research and it's not looking like safe always is the answer.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153083)

Well, lets start with some plausible hypotheses as to how the materials might be unsafe, and then study those.

Granted, there will be lots of media hysteria like there was in the case of the supposed cell phone/brain cancer link years ago, but that's inevitable. Since it's inevitable, we might as well proceed in the most epistemologically sound way. That would be to do our best to show that these materials are unsafe, then (hopefully) fail in each specific mechanism we can think of.

Logically, you might claim that we're assuming that the materials are unsafe, but that's only as a null hypothesis regarding specific mechanisms. That's not the same as assuming the materials might be unsafe in some way which is beyond the capacity of human ingenuity to anticipate. That would not only bar trying anything new, it would also bar continuing anything we're already doing. For that matter, it also bars stopping anything we're already doing.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (5, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153997)

Well, lets start with some plausible hypotheses as to how the materials might be unsafe, and then study those.

There are two things that make nano-[anything] problematic

1. Our bodies are not designed to filter nano-sized particles

2. nano-[anything] has vastly more surface area, which makes it much more reactive (ie possibly toxic) at lower concentrations.

These are not hypotheses, they are facts. All that's left to study is which elements are toxic in nano-form and which aren't. And I'm personally much more comfortable with a default assumption of "unsafe" than the opposite.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (4, Insightful)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154521)

#1 Not true! The actual environment that our cells operate on IS nano. Every crucial function in the body demands exceptionally tight control of structures much SMALLER than most nano-sized particles are likley to be

#2 Completly true...which is a good thing. We are essentially bags of salty water with a lot of gunk like lipids and proteins lying around and a huge amount of free energy in constant use. We are potentially the most hostile environment a nano-particle is likley to encounter. The huge surface area means it is much more likley to get gummed up and inactivated almost immediatly causing no more harm than any other chemical you ingest.

These are not hypothesis, they are facts. I am not suggesting there will be no harm but I am suggesting that there is no reason to think that nano-particles as a class will be more toxic than other classes of chmicals.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (4, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154865)

#1 Not true! The actual environment that our cells operate on IS nano. Every crucial function in the body demands exceptionally tight control of structures much SMALLER than most nano-sized particles are likley to be

Maybe we're talking about different things.

When I say that our bodies are not designed to filter nano-[anything] I meant the respiratory system and the circulatory system. Yes "The actual environment that our cells operate on IS nano" but most of the stuff floating around our bodies is micro-sized, not nano-sized and the body's defense system is setup to defend on that scale.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (1)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24155113)

The respiratory system is probably the most sensitive place. Personally I think that may be the only common health hazard (carbon nanotubes that act like asbestos). There is no direct evidence of this yet but it wouldn't surprise me.

But even the tiniest nano-particle is still going to be hundreds of atoms large simply to get the complexity necessary for something interesting to happen. The body routinely manipulates structures from 10 atoms up to hundreds of thousands of atoms (nucleotide base pairs up through macro scale objects like muscle fibers).

The biggest concern is not the size of the particles but rather some unique chemical bond that they may poses which is difficult to process. However the body already has a system to deal with unknown bonds. It takes the nano object and throws it in a bath of hydrogen peroxide. The random oxidation reduces the complex structure into it's most basic constituent parts (oxidized of course) and the body can then recycle or dispose of it. The body can deal with every single type of atom (admittedly some are easier than others). But we will also need to watch out for toxicity from the constituent atoms on a straight FDA RDA limit.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (1)

giafly (926567) | more than 6 years ago | (#24155235)

The huge surface area means it is much more likley to get gummed up and inactivated almost immediatly causing no more harm than any other chemical you ingest.

Asbestosis is caused when asbestos fibres get gummed up in the lungs, to borrow your phrase, so it stands to reason that there's a potential risk from other nano particles.

Asbestos contains tiny fibres of mineral silicates. People who have worked extensively with asbestos (for example, repairing boilers, demolishing buildings, and asbestos removal workers), or who have lived close to asbestos factories, will have breathed in these fibres. These fibres are extremely irritating to the tissue of the lungs. They settle in the lungs and the lung tissue becomes thickened and scarred. This gradually makes it more difficult for oxygen to get from the atmosphere into the blood and for the waste gas carbon dioxide to be breathed out.
- NHS Direct [nhsdirect.nhs.uk]

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (4, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#24155053)

1. Our bodies are not designed to filter nano-sized particles

Our bodies already seek and destroy viruses.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24155111)

1. Our bodies are not designed to filter nano-sized particles

Are you sure we're not continuously showered with all kinds of crap at that size? I mean, there's well .. literally crap. And there's dust. And chunks of dust can break in half (which break in half).

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (5, Interesting)

Feanturi (99866) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154043)

It's easy to hypothesize how nanomaterials can be unsafe. All of biology works off of very tiny objects of specific shapes. These shapes allow different things to happen depending on how they fit each other, and where they fit, sort of like keys in locks. When making things of very small size we have to be careful about the shapes of these things, because we don't know what keyhole in a cell somewhere it might accidentally fit into, triggering some change in the cell that we don't know about due to not enough research.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (5, Informative)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152737)

try

A Review of Carbon Nanotube Toxicity and Assessment of Potential Occupational and Environmental Health Risks

Lam, Chiu-wing; James, John; McCluskey, Richard; Arepalli, Sivaram; Hunter, Robert

Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Volume 36, Number 3, May-June 2006 , pp. 189-217(29)

Greater effect means, um, greater effect. (4, Insightful)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152943)

To quote from TFA:
Typical of the research was a report earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found when nano-sized particles were given with chemotherapy, doses of the anticancer drug could be cut by about 95 per cent, without any reduction in therapeutic effect.

But the new report recommended that, given that the impact of nanomaterials on living things is "poorly understood,"...

I don't know about you but if my biochemistry teacher hammered anything into us it was two interrelated concepts:
- Just about everything in the human body runs off fewer than twenty mechanisms and these same mechanisms are used over and over to do many different things.
- All of these mechanisms are interconnected. You change how one is working and you'll affect at least two or three.
Let me add a third: when you massively change the strength of a reagent, you change what it does. Dilute hydrogen peroxide is a useful and safe antiseptic. Increase the concentration twenty times and you have a rocket fuel that melts your flesh.

If any approach makes some approach twenty times as powerful then it is doing other things, too. Count on it. We've seen this over and over, from birth control pills to heart medication.

Re:Greater effect means, um, greater effect. (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153741)

The most likely things, I think, would go along the lines of asbestos-related illnesses. It's a foreign substance being added to the body that in many cases is inorganic or not biologically active. Yes, it could cause harm. Maybe it doesn't. Who knows, without research? Why worry if you don't know the result?

If we made every new product go through a massive testing regimen before it was deployed, we'd see no new products for many years. This is one reason why, even with fast tracking the drugs in question, there was no treatment for AIDS for a good 10 years after it was well known to exist and killing people. I suspect that many people died who could have benefitted while the current cocktail of drugs was going through its trials. Applying that level of scrutiny to anything new would result in a veritable dark age where the costs of developing new products became astronomical and the speed of innovation ground to a sluggish crawl.

Re:Greater effect means, um, greater effect. (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154423)

My fear would be that nanoparticles of the exact wrong shape lodge themselves into an important neurotransmitter receptor and cause havoc in the brain or even possibly death by blocking the activity of the neurotransmitter or continuously firing the receptor. Same goes for liver receptors, etc.

I wouldn't want any of my receptors, anywhere, getting jammed up up with inert junk.

Re:Greater effect means, um, greater effect. (0, Troll)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154655)

Yes, if something like the HIV was fast tracked and massively deployed things would of been much better.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (-1, Troll)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152967)

Show me some research

Sorry, but pure research has been shown to violate the Republican platform and has been suspended in favor of making the government 'smaller' by contracting all lucrative functions to loyal party members.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153059)

Well then, let me be the first to recommend you as a research subject.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (5, Insightful)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154105)

Show me some research.

Would you understand it?

I spent a bit of time studying Nanotech at uni while reading Physics. I am hopelessly out of date now and I would probably barely understand it, especially as this involves the intersection of Physics with Biology.

I am fairly astounded you can be as arrogant as to dismiss on going research by various universities as "pointless worrying" just because they have not finished it yet. Research is often fairly talked about in academic circles long before it is published.

This also reminds me of asbestos. It was known to be potentially harmful for a great many years in academic circles long before it was proved to be harmful. Since I know of people who died of asbestosis I have a little more time for this sort of research being discussed long before a link has been thoroughly proven beyond all scientific doubt.

I can quite easily see how another extremely fine particle similar to asbestos fibre that has never existed naturally in any quantity could have the potential for serious harm if inhaled, swallowed or placed in contact with the skin. The scale of nanotech particles means they could quite easily become airborne if not handled carefully.

Re:Bunch of useless speculation (1)

Pigeon451 (958201) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154387)

Cells will "eat" gold nanorods. What are the implications of ingesting these things? Surely having an abnormal amount of metal material inside a cell of microscopic proportions will have some effect on it. I've seen cells gobble up the nanorods, very interesting. They're so small they go right through the cellular membrane. What are the implications of other types of nanomaterials?

Do a search, there's tons of journal articles out there.

Re:But remember . . (1)

EverStoned (620906) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153953)

I'm really interested in why you say "grey goo" could never really happen. I don't know much/anything about nanoengineering, but I'm aware of "grey goo" and I'd like to know why you said that. Is it an energy issue?

Re:But remember . . (1)

Is0m0rph (819726) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154965)

Well I've seen some stuff in the back my fridge before and can attest that "grey goo" can happen back there in lost Tupperware containers.

Always known? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152431)

I thought that this was an accepted risk from the beginning, there was no real debate about it.

It's not the size that counts (0)

Rastignac (1014569) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152457)

But the nanos' danger is real and big.
Rendez-vous in a few years to see the bad side effects...

Death by nano dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152471)

Great, now the world's militaries will utilize nanomaterial warfare and stifle the world's population but drowning us in an infinite sea of dust we can't see...

Re:Death by nano dust (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152971)

Or more realistically, do what we already know they are researching, release a nanomachine (admittedly different from a nanomaterial) that eats a particular kind of plastic. You want to be around when that problem gets out of control?

Re:Death by nano dust (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153411)

"release a nanomachine (admittedly different from a nanomaterial) that eats a particular kind of plastic. You want to be around when that problem gets out of control?"

If it's engineered to eat pleather, then yes.

Naked Hot Vegan Chicks FTW!

Re:Death by nano dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153499)

"Mmmmm.... rich Corinthian leather!" :-9

Small particles can gum up cells and cause cancer (0)

wattrlz (1162603) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152481)

... More at 11.

ban these "atom" things! (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152483)

These nano things called "atoms" apparently can do all kinds of crazy things, even combining and connecting to each other! We need to ban them.. think of the children!

In all seriousness, these things are treated just like every other chemical and substance, but it's headlines because it has the word "nano" in it, so that makes it cool all of a sudden. Dioxin molecules are small too, can we get an article on how you should not brush your teeth with it?

Re:ban these "atom" things! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153187)

"these things are treated just like every other chemical and substance"

And therein lies the problem, these are not "just like every other chemical and substance", thank you.

You're an idiot. (5, Insightful)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153383)

Things like nanotubes, buckyballs and nanosilver particles DON'T EXIST IN NATURE. How do you think nature (even our own cells) will react to them?

I read another article in physorg concerning nanosilver, and how it has the potential to kill soil bacteria [physorg.com] , which are a fundamental part of the ecosystem.

It's not the atoms you moron - it's how they're artificially combined and exposed to the environment.

Want a more common example: chromium picolinate, which is sold as the perfect solution for losing weight. The truth is, in tests done with fruit flies, it generates chromosomal aberrations, impedes progeny development,[13] and causes sterility and lethal mutations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromium_picolinate#Health_claims_and_debates). And it's already being sold commercially!

I don't have a problem with nanomaterials being manufactured for, say, microprocessors. But adding nanoparticles to common household items like refrigerators, stoves, and even the socks you wear, that's going too far.

Just look where the industry and big corporations have situated us. Without proper safety research in antibiotics, we now have to cope with drug-resistant "superbacteria". Well, these bacteria didn't exist 50 years ago! And yet antibacterial soap, shampoos and whatnot are STILL being sold in mass quantities.

Mankind is destroying the planet because of greedy idiots who only see money. Anyone who says "where are the safety studies?" is called a fearmonger who opposes progress.

Re:You're an idiot. (4, Informative)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153501)

Actually, all those things exist in nature (buckyballs & carbon nanotubes get formed whether anything organic burns or in the presence of lightning strikes, for instance), but they don't exist with the purity or at the concentrations that humans can make in the lab.

I'm not saying such materials are "safe", but you're overstating your initial premise.

Re:You're an idiot. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153537)

Things like nanotubes, buckyballs and nanosilver particles DON'T EXIST IN NATURE. How do you think nature (even our own cells) will react to them?

Nature does build various nanoscale structures all the time. None of them that I'm familiar with seem to be as stable as the stuff we're building, though.

Re:You're an idiot. (2, Interesting)

Feanturi (99866) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154121)

Life as we know it is based around these naturally formed structures. They fit each other in the ways that they do, because if they didn't, life as we know it would be something else. If we create things that fit to cells in the body in unexpected ways, we get life as we do NOT know it.

Re:You're an idiot. (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153571)

Actually, nanotubes do exist in nature, and are produced naturally in many carbon-burning reactions.

Re:You're an idiot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154683)

Er, no. *You're* an idiot. C60 and nanotubes are present in soot (ban candles!) and metal nanoparticles *do* exist in nature, and have done so probably before life developed on this planet. Gold colloids in particular are very common - some bacteria have even been known to produce them! The reason you think they haven't is because it's only been recently that we've had the analytical tools capable of separating them from the background noise.

Incidentally Chromium Picolinate is not commonly accepted to be a "nanomaterial" (i.e. a material whose properties derive primarily from their small size), and superbacteria would evolve just because we use antibiotics - Darwin at work. I agree antibacterial soaps etc. accelerate this process, but currently we restrict effective antibiotics to human use only - MRSA and the like have evolved their defences to these newer antibiotics purely in response to their use in humans rather than the big bad corporations putting them in cow food.

I'll restrict judgement on whether the underlying question "do nanomaterials imply a new class of toxicity, over and above that of ordinary chemicals" is correctly answered by your post, but if you're going to call someone a moron I'd recommend getting your science straight first...

Re:You're an idiot. (1)

Troed (102527) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154893)

"Mankind is destroying the planet"

Really? How so?

Please don't spew uninformed crap back at me - I'd like to have a serious fact based discussion.
Personally I think mankind is doing wonders.

Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechans! (2, Insightful)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152485)

Oh and fields from electric razors... and radioactive materials from nuclear tests...

We have to live with the fact that many things natural and unnatural effect us every day, and with due diligence even the most harmful of materials can be useful. What if it's ability to enter cells and "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" is precicely what we need to cure AIDS, cancer, and every other ailment mankind faces from natural threats that definitely can "usurp ... protective mechanisms"?

Jonah HEX

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152791)

Leprechan? Is that a short Irish camwhore?

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153381)

Not to be confused with Leper-Chan.

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152931)

Alright I'll say what everyone is thinking:

Asbestos

That one material and the resulting deaths are why nano-anything is scary nowadays.

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (3, Interesting)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153355)

Asbestos is actually a great example, as there was only one specific kind that really did the damage most people think of, and the rest was hand waving similar to this. It just worked due to fears of the Jury easily being mislead by information they do not understand, which is why most of the "wins" are settelments.

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153695)

[Citation Needed]

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 6 years ago | (#24155185)

I'll give a quick personal experience opinion on this...

Great Grandmother worked at McCord Gasket during WWII era, total 15+ years on the job. She described how the "girls" would be covered head to toe in asbestos dust during the workday, they wore simple paper masks when needed due to the quantity of dust in the air. Neither her or anyone she knew had medical problems from the type of asbestos used.

Jonah HEX

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (2, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153589)

What if it's ability to enter cells and "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" is precicely what we need to cure AIDS, cancer, and every other ailment mankind faces from natural threats that definitely can "usurp ... protective mechanisms"?

Great, then we can make powerful drugs with nanoparticles. But that just reinforces the point that maybe we should think twice before going along with current trends, such as liberally slathering nanoparticle-laced sunscreen on ourselves.

Re:Enter cells? So do cosmic rays... and leprechan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154783)

One word on your mockery: Asbestos.

Different perspectives (4, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152501)

In the US, we all count on GM agriculture to provide us with cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables as well as provide feed grain for our chemically-enhanced cows and chickens. Genetic manipulation provides us with our way of life and for the most part we are happily accepting of it.

In other parts of the world, this type of "frankenscience" makes people uncomfortable. There is a strong pushback against GM crops because for all the benefits of them, the drawbacks are as yet unknown.

Should we plow ahead with these new technologies, or should we move as slowly as possible to delay unwanted contamination? We can create test groups and phased deployments of these new products, but there is no good plan for widespread deployment that takes into account both the safety of the product users as well as exposing them to potential dangers against their will. Either we sell technologically-improved products, or we don't.

Which is the right mindset?

There is a middle ground. (5, Insightful)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152713)

You are presently two extremes as if they were the only options.
EITHER "plow ahead" OR "move as slowly as possible". This is a false set of choices. When you're walking down the street are your only choices to either run as fast as you can or move as slowly as possible?
To say that greater oversight makes sense is very different from "as slowly as possible". At this point we know that GM crops are interbreeding with non-GM crops. At the very least this is being used as yet another front in the We-own-your-life-through-controlling-your-IP war. Farmers who not only didn't want GM crops but actively tried to avoid them are being sued because seeds have blown across the plains and corporations are demanding payment for the resulting plants. Does this seem like grounds for investigation to you? It sure does to me.
There are dozens of these issues, if not many more. And, on top of everything else, after a quarter century of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush, our regulators themselves are long overdue for more transparency. After all, Tyson Chicken was one of Bill Clinton's biggest campaign supporters and if you think that didn't affect the way his people dealt with this kind of thing then you haven't been paying attention. Not to mention the waves of junk science that the EPA and other government agencies have been subjected to from their own politically-appointed bosses since Dubya took office.
Should we huddle in a corner and live on raw twigs? No. Should we let anybody do anything anywhere anytime? Also no. But there is a middle ground and that is where we should be.

Re:There is a middle ground. (2, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152895)

I didn't mention the IP ramifications of GM crops because they are completely irrelevant to their safety and not germane to this conversation.

There are only two choices when it comes to GM crops. The choice to use them or the choice to eschew them. At the consumer level, there is almost no chance to exercise choice at all since there is no way to determine whether a product contains GM components or not. The only possible leverage a consumer has is to purchase expensive organic products, but that is only possible for those who have extra disposable income (a group sadly shrinking in recent years).

So if you use GM crops in the production of a product, you reap the immediate benefits of higher margins due to cheaper ingredients, but you also have a huge unknown factor as to how those ingredients will affect your consumers in the long term. Maybe not at all, but maybe horrifically, maybe somewhere in between (Olestra?).

The choice boils down to risk management. For the immense gain in production, are we willing (as a citizenry) to accept that there are unknowns that may adversely affect us? In the US, the answer is yes. In many other industrialized countries, especially in Europe and some parts of Asia, the answer is no.

Re:There is a middle ground. (1)

NiceGeek (126629) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153631)

Speak for yourself. I go out of my way to avoid GM foods, and try to purchase goods from local farmers where at all possible. Not all of us are idiots.

Re:There is a middle ground. (0, Offtopic)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153761)

You don't buy:

steak,
chicken,
fish,
eggs,
milk,
fruits,
vegetables,
crackers,
taco shells,
bread,
pasta,
or cookies?

Do you ever eat at restaurants? Do you ever consume airplane food? Have you ever grabbed a quick snack at the coffee shop?

There are so many vectors for GM crops. Are you avoiding them all?

Re:There is a middle ground. (2, Interesting)

NiceGeek (126629) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153841)

ACtually I buy eggs, steak, fish, milk, fruits, vegatables from local farmers who do not use GM methods. I'm aware that restaurant food is of questionable origin but I don't eat out that often, and since airline food is expensive and crap and I don't fly very often that is also an easy avoid. Notice I said "when possible". Are you aware that you come off as a pompous git?

Re:There is a middle ground. (2, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153895)

Are you aware that you come off as a pompous git?

Yes. Does that change the risks associated with GM foods, though?

Re:Different perspectives (2, Insightful)

Tom (822) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153067)

Which is the right mindset?

Why has there got to be one "right" mindset? The world is large enough for more than one approach. If the US wants to test every new technology irrespective of the risks, let them reap the benefits - and pay the price if there is danger. More conservative regions of the planet can at the same time hold back, avoiding both the risks and the benefits of early adopters.

Why insist on experting your mindset instead of letting other people simply keep theirs?

Re:Different perspectives (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153145)

Why has there got to be one "right" mindset?

Because in order to do that we'd have to use labeling laws so that everyone can use their own mindset instead of thinking whatever the companies want them to think.

Re:Different perspectives (2, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153193)

This is why I believe that there are only two choices. One to embrace technology and one to take a wait and see attitude. There is no way to embrace the new technologies without simultaneously exposing all the consumers of it to the risks, with disregard for their will, I might add. And there is no way to take a wait and see attitude without something to wait for. A wait and see attitude without taking any action results in deadlock, so it requires someone, somewhere deploy the technology.

The first choice propels science and technology, the second choice leads to stagnation. I still can't say which one is the better choice, considering the risks.

Re:Different perspectives (2, Insightful)

FeatureBug (158235) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153269)

The thing is GM agriculture does not provide cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables.

First of all, there are no GM fruits grown on a commercial scale in the US. There are only a few different GM vegetables grown commercially in the US.

Secondly, US and EU farming enterprises both get huge subsidies from their respective governments. US and EU farming enterprises both generate huge surpluses of food and wine. US farming enterprises pay large amounts to Monsanto for rights to use GM seeds. EU farming enterprises pay nothing to Monsanto. Who is upset? Monsanto.

In the developing world, farmers grow their own extremely cheap non-GM food. Why is it so expensive to import in US and EU? Trade tariffs, imposed because US and EU farmers have lobbied their respective governments to tax imports of cheap food that would compete with their own produce.

Re:Different perspectives (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153493)

Take the politics and costs out of the equation for a second. The general attitude towards GM crops in the US ranges from ignorance to lukewarm acceptance. The general attitude towards them in the EU is outright rejection.

Do you think there is a conspiracy in the US to promote GM crops? Do you think there is a conspiracy elsewhere to promote rejection of GM crops? If the governments are complicit with their support or rejection of these technologies, is it likely that they are also using their power to "brainwash" the citizenry to support the corresponding ideology?

If not both, then one? Which one? Neither?

Re:Different perspectives (2, Insightful)

FeatureBug (158235) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153929)

No conspiracy required. Profit is the driver. When Monsanto sells more GM crops, it makes more profit. US and EU politicians both look after their own, they push laws that support their own. Monsanto is US based, so US and US-sponsored countries get GM crops, EU doesn't. Food is in surplus in both US and in EU, retails at similar price levels. What's the difference? Monsanto. No politics required. Just profit.

Re:Different perspectives (2, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154033)

That doesn't explain the difference in opinion regarding GM foods among the populace, though.

No one in the US is clamoring for GM foods to be everywhere, but they aren't protesting in the streets about it either [indymedia.org] .

Re:Different perspectives (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154223)

BadAnalogyGuy here, posting anonymously to avoid Karma suicide.

A few years ago, while browsing around the library downtown, I had to take a piss. As I entered the john, a big beautiful all-American football hero type, about twenty five, came out of one of the booths. I stood at the urinal looking at him out of the corner of my eye as he washed his hands. He didn't once look at me. He was "straight" and married -- and in any case I was sure I wouldn't have a chance with him.

As soon as he left, I darted into the booth he'd vacated, hoping there might be a lingering smell of shit and even a seat still warm from his sturdy young ass. I found not only the smell but the shit itself. He'd forgotten to flush. And what a treasure he had left behind. Three or four beautiful specimens floated in the bowl. It apparently had been a fairly dry, constipated shit, for all were fat, stiff, and ruggedly textured. The real prize was a great feast of turd -- a nine inch gastrointestinal triumph as thick as a man's wrist. I knelt before the bowl, inhaling the rich brown fragrance and wondered if I should obey the impulse building up inside me. I'd always been a heavy rimmer and had lapped up more than one little clump of shit, but that had been just an inevitable part of eating ass and not an end in itself.

Of course I'd had jerkoff fantasies of devouring great loads of it (what rimmer hasn't?), but I had never done it. Now, here I was, confronted with the most beautiful five-pound turd I'd ever feasted my eyes on, a sausage fit to star in any fantasy and one I knew to have been hatched from the asshole of the world's handsomest young stud.

Why not? I plucked it from the bowl, holding it with both hands to keep it from breaking.

I lifted it to my nose. It smelled like rich, ripe limburger (horrid, but thrilling), yet had the consistency of cheddar. What is cheese anyway but milk turning to shit without the benefit of a digestive tract? I gave it a lick and found that it tasted better then it smelled. I've found since then that shit nearly almost does. I hesitated no longer. I shoved the fucking thing as far into my mouth as I could get it and sucked on it like a big brown cock, beating my meat like a madman. I wanted to completely engulf it and bit off a large chunk, flooding my mouth with the intense, bittersweet flavor. To my delight I found that while the water in the bowl had chilled the outside of the turd, it was still warm inside. As I chewed I discovered that it was filled with hard little bits of something I soon identified as peanuts. He hadn't chewed them carefully and they'd passed through his body virtually unchanged. I ate it greedily, sending lump after peanutty lump sliding scratchily down my throat. My only regret was the donor of this feast wasn't there to wash it down with his piss. I soon reached a terrific climax. I caught my cum in the cupped palm of my hand and drank it down. Believe me, there is no more delightful combination of flavors than the hot sweetness of cum with the rich bitterness of shit. Afterwards I was sorry that I hadn't made it last longer. But then I realized that I still had a lot of fun in store for me. There was still a clutch of virile turds left in the bowl. I tenderly fished them out, rolled them into my hankercheif, and stashed them in my briefcase.

In the week to come I found all kinds of ways to eat the shit without bolting it right down. Once eaten it's gone forever unless you want to filch it third hand out of your own asshole -- not an unreasonable recourse in moments of desperation or simple boredom.

I stored the turds in the refrigerator when I was not using them but within a week they were all gone.

The last one I held in my mouth without chewing, letting it slowly dissolve. I had liquid shit trickling down my throat for nearly four hours. I must have had six orgasms in the process. I often think of that lovely young guy dropping solid gold out of his sweet, pink asshole every day, never knowing what joy it could, and at least once did,bring to a grateful shiteater.

Re:Different perspectives (1)

FeatureBug (158235) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154313)

Why bother? It's not difficult to understand. Monsanto is spending truck loads of cash, lobbying for GM crops everywhere, both inside and outside the US, from NGOs to politicians, all the way to WHO. All in search of maximizing profit. Perfectly legal. Many people criticize Monsanto, many don't. Perhaps, don't bite the hand that feeds...

Re:Different perspectives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153281)

In other parts of the world, this type of "frankenscience" makes people uncomfortable. There is a strong pushback against GM crops because for all the benefits of them, the drawbacks are as yet unknown.

In other parts of the world, this type of "frenkenscience" makes anti-development commune living ivory tower "intellectuals" in first world nations uncomfortable that the poor and starving may just find a way out and improve their standard of living, so they should just keep on living in grass huts "in tune with nature" while starving to death. There is a strong push back against GM crops by politicos exploiting those same misguided souls for profit, both political and monetary; the drawbacks of actually feeding the hungry are well known and disastrous to their careers.

FTFY, HTH

Wait... I know this one... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152585)

The Borg are planning a hostile takeover of Earth!

Nano materials occur in nature, (5, Insightful)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152587)

wouldn't we have evolved defences?

also, and related, the following, by John C. Monica, 2007.

The distinction between "engineered," "incidental," and "natural" nanoparticles is beginning to blur. A vocal contingent advocates regulation of the first category without much focus on the later two. We recently asked whether this distinction is meaningful for certain EHS purposes. The human body may not differentiate between exposure to the three categories of materials. On the other hand, it makes sense to be concerned with reducing man-made risks first.

Here is a related question: What happens to this definitional scheme when naturally occurring nanomaterials (ex/ carbon nanotubes and fibers) are harvested/mined and then used for commercial purposes? While they are not "man-made" in the traditional sense, they presumably pose the same exposure risks as engineered nanomaterials created in a lab. The industry is currently exploring cheaper ways to mass-produce nanomaterials. Consequently, we will undoubtedly see more "natural" nanomaterials being used in commercial applications. This issue merits serious consideration in any attempt to regulate nanotechnology and/or create uniform standards and nomenclature.

"Engineered" = purposefully created; man-made. "Incidental" = unintentionally created; by-product of human activity. "Natural" = found in nature; volcanic rock; smoke.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152769)

And aren't those "natural" ones you mentioned harmful?

I don't think it's unreasonable to worry about the impact of objects that are small enough to enter the body/cells but large enough to cause damage. Think asbestos. It's not a given that the body has evolved any defenses, as it has to organic attacks.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (5, Funny)

tubapro12 (896596) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153117)

One word, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (3, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153119)

Why is it someone on Slashdot can understand this, but no one on this Canadian blue ribbon panel was able to make that connection?

"Nano" is a new prefix, which is commonly applied to old materials. There's nothing inherently evil about small particles, they do occur in nature. If a new material comes along using nanotech, it should be subject to testing just like any other new material. If an old material (like titanium dioxide) has been tested for decades, and now gets the "nano" label, we need to understand that marketing spin does not change the chemical or physical properties of a material.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153207)

Because it's a foolish argument. "Why are we concerned with my attack robot when there are bears and sharks in the wild?" I mean come on.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153715)

Because it's a foolish argument. "Why are we concerned with my attack robot when there are bears and sharks in the wild?" I mean come on.

I think that you've come up with the next Discovery Channel reality show: Team of dorks (including obligatory cute chick in tight T-shirt) have 48 hours to design and construct attack robot that will combat real bears and sharks in cage match.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (1)

FloydTheDroid (1296743) | more than 6 years ago | (#24155137)

It seems to me like some of the nano structures are quite similar to asbestos. Just did a search and sure enough I'm not the first to think that (damn you internet). So there you go. While not every nano partical is going to be bad, some may be. It's marketing spin which will hide this fact from us since they're never going to sell any nano-asbestos or nano-sharppointycellinvader.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (1)

Lust (14189) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153365)

I loved your comment and agree completely. This knee-jerk reaction most people have towards nanomaterials (which have existed in some form since the Big Bang) reminds me of a similar reaction people have against "chemicals" in food vs. "natural" products, as if nature in incapable of producing its own toxins.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154049)

I am posting as AC only because I created my account aeons ago and forgot the passwd.

It is Not a knee-jerk reaction. Understand that humans have made several materials - complex and simple which are never found in nature (that's right, never, though many others are found rarely). High-temperature superconductors for example. And as far as our defenses are concerned, they have evolved only to counter "naturally occurring" substances.

This "I am not a skeptic" reaction is what is typically found in ignorant crowds who tend to dismiss everything until they are hit badly (think online id theft a decade ago). An aware person tends to look at new things with (healthy) skepticism. An ignorant lazy one tends to dismiss. I work as a scientist in the biotech sector and I have witnessed too many drug disasters because of this attitude.

It is not a meaningful distinction (5, Insightful)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153403)

Health risks are going to be identical no matter how you categorize a material.

Consider asbestos. Asbestos particles are certainly very similar in many respects to some of the engineered nanomaterials. If I manufacture artificial asbestos, it will have the same toxology as 'natural' asbestos.

The meaningful question in my mind is 'Is there a significant source of natural exposure to material X?' If so then we would be reasonably justified in making the assumption that similar exposure to the same material from man made sources will have similar effects, and we also have grounds for making a default assumption that the human body can tolerate the material to a certain extent.

However it seems to me that there are or will be a large class of nanomaterials which are substantially different from anything found in nature. It would seem prudent to study the toxicity of such materials carefully before they see wide use.

Personally I don't see a close correspondence between GMOs and nanomaterials. GMOs incorporate genetic elements which are already found naturally in a variety of organisms. Furthermore even if we designed some 'artificial genes' the proteins expressed via those genes are not going to be radically different from those found in existing organisms. Obviously such a protein would need to be tested for toxicity, but it would be no more likely to be hazardous than one isolated from a natural source.

To my mind the majority of the fears the public has about GMOs are largely unfounded. There are various issues, but it is far more tenable to believe GMOs are largely benign than it would be to believe that nanomaterials are. Thus a stance of 'GMOs are safe unless proven otherwise' is not unreasonable, but a similar stance with regard to nanomaterials probably is not.

So my opinion would be that engineered nanomaterials should be studied for biological effects before widespread commercial deployment. That might not be necessary for certain limited engineering uses, but we SHOULD be reasonably cautious. If you want to sell me a consumer good which contains engineered nanomaterials, they should require review and approval in some fashion similar to the rules in place for potentially toxic chemicals. And those rules themselves probably require beefing up.

The other issue that has never been addressed with any types of materials is synergistic effects. Any given material might be safe in and of itself, but in the real world we get exposed to a 'soup' of compounds and materials every day. Seems to me the major thing we should all be worried about is just how thick does that broth get before we're done in by the entirely unknown and unforeseen interactions between them?

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (3, Insightful)

bugnuts (94678) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153925)

Here is a related question: What happens to this definitional scheme when naturally occurring nanomaterials (ex/ carbon nanotubes and fibers) are harvested/mined and then used for commercial purposes? While they are not "man-made" in the traditional sense, they presumably pose the same exposure risks as engineered nanomaterials created in a lab.

Asbestos fibers occur naturally. Mercury occurs naturally. Lead occurs naturally.

Why are all those regulations out there for natural things? Naturally-occurring means it's good for you, right? We have evolved defenses! Your lead cannot harm me, I'm bulletproof! ...

See the problem with that argument? Mercury didn't kill people, until it was dumped into drinking water by irresponsible companies primarily because no regulations were in place. Lead didn't kill anyone, until it was used in cars and leached into ground water (although the current additives aren't much better).

If we wait for catastrophes to regulate/monitor/study something we know is dangerous, we're simply repeating historical ignorance.

Re:Nano materials occur in nature, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154077)

wouldn't we have evolved defences?

so does radioactivity and this does not make it less dangerous

A/C

Oblig. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24152613)

Resistance is Futile...

Newsflash! (0, Offtopic)

rossdee (243626) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152625)

Repkicators are dangerous.

Film at 10pm

(On the SciFi channel)

Yep, new episodes of Stargate Atlantis start tonight.

Nanovirus war (3, Funny)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152711)

we better start developing organic weapons that the machine can't take control of.

nano particles = new free radicals? (1)

decavolt (928214) | more than 6 years ago | (#24152917)

Does this mean we'll start seeing nano particles as a new form of free radicals, complete with store shelves full of "nano anti-oxidants"?

Great. What we really need is more snake oil pseudo-medicinal junk for sale, because clearly there isn't enough already.

Man-made Virus (1)

fatp (1171151) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153085)

I always think nanotechnology materials are like man-made virus...

Maybe possibly potentially... (5, Insightful)

Taibhsear (1286214) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153091)

"A Canadian panel of leading scientists warns that nanomaterials appearing in a rapidly growing number of products might potentially be able to enter cells and interfere with biological processes... Their small size, the report says, may allow them "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" and, as a result, possibly have "enhanced toxicological effects." The 16-member panel that wrote the new report included some of Canada's leading scientists and top international experts on nanomaterials."

Ok, that's a lot of ifs and maybes. How about you do the testing before adamantly stating that "Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think." And how about more than 16 people, not all of which are scientists and experts on nanomaterials, actually chime in on this.

Re:Maybe possibly potentially... (4, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153587)

And how about more than 16 people, not all of which are scientists and experts on nanomaterials, actually chime in on this.

I don't care what you think if you're not a scientist. I'm not worried about intelligent cancers or jesus cancer.

Re:Maybe possibly potentially... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153729)

What about "censor legitimate scientists who want to show their findings that global warming just might not be human-caused" cancer?

Re:Maybe possibly potentially... (1)

mweather (1089505) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153967)

Oh, the imaginary type?

Re:Maybe possibly potentially... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24153817)

Don't worry, it's on /. now and countless more people will chime in...

Re:Maybe possibly potentially... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24154291)

Ok, that's a lot of ifs and maybes.

You can cling to ifs and maybes if you wish, but I can assure you with 100% certainty that I, and many others, can design and manufacture highly toxic and deadly nanoparticles in large quantities.

Why does the new slashdot posting UI require me to "type more than that" for my comment?!?

Warning! (5, Funny)

pxc (938367) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153267)

Contains small parts. Keep away from children.

Re:Warning! (1)

Arionhawk (1115559) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153743)

Exactly what I was thinking when I read the head line.

nanomaterials are huge (1)

uberjoe (726765) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153629)

Nanomaterials? . . . In my lungs?

It's more likely than you think.

Stephenson - Again (2, Interesting)

pragma_x (644215) | more than 6 years ago | (#24153887)

In the Diamond Age, Neil Stephenson already touched on this very concept.

http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=245 [technovelgy.com]

A mark of a good writer is that he or she not only creates a new world, but also takes the time to "age" it a little. The use of the word "toner," which most of us recognize from our experience with copying machines and printers, conjures up an image of a very fine black dust.

The "mites" referred to in the following excerpt are nanomachines the same size as dust mites.

"See, there's mites around all the time. They use sparkles to talk to each other," Harv explained. "They're in the food and water, everywhere. And there's rules that these mites are supposed to follow. They're supposed to break down into safe pieces... But there are people who break those rules [so the] Protocol Enforcement guys make a mite to go out and find that mite and kill it. This dust - we call it toner - is actually the dead bodies of all those mites.

IIRC, Harv isn't doing well in this particular scene since he's trying to explain why he's hacking up a lung after being outside for a little while.

Contradiction (3, Insightful)

Woundweavr (37873) | more than 6 years ago | (#24154075)

"Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think" seems to directly contradict "there are inadequate data to inform quantitative risk assessments on current and emerging nanomaterials." At most it would seem "Nanomaterials May Possibly Be Dangerous"

Black Oil ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24155093)

Or a new alien form like those on Threshold TV show ?

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