Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, April 27, 2007

Nanotech & Food: The Coming Merger

What do you get when you put nanotechnology and food together? You get some pretty amazing things. First, we should understand that the longer term (decades) changes that are coming will include the instantiation of human minds (not the brain itself, but the pattern of information that makes up our personality) into man made substrates, in which case conventional "foods" will no longer be our source of energy or nutrition.

For the nearer term however, nanotech will be applied to several aspects of food creation, preparation, packaging and delivery. A highly informative and interesting article in Nanowerk's blog titled The promises of food nanotechnology describes some of these applications.
Let's start with where the benefits of this will be needed most: third world countries where food supply is often limited and the quality of available food leads to nutritional deficiencies and the quality of drinking water is a major contributor to disease. In a study by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics from two years ago ("Nanotechnology and the Developing World"; pdf download, 220 KB), a panel of international experts ranked the 10 nanotechnology applications in development worldwide with the greatest potential to aid the poor. Number two on the list was "agricultural productivity enhancement", number three was "water treatment and remediation" and number six was "food processing and storage."
One of the first arguments against the feasibility of radical life-extension made by its detractors is the claim that there wouldn't be enough food for the increased population that would result. Besides the fact that populations have already increasing in many developed nations, there is the fact that technological advances have already resulted in an overabundance of food in developed countries. Whereas less than a century ago in the U.S., food was difficult to come by for many Americans, today there is too much. Admittedly food is scarce in some places in the world, but that is more a factor of political strife than anything else. As nanotech influences the food industries of the world, the abundance we enjoy in the west will be more common in poorer nations.

Another benefit of nanotech as applied to our food will be nutrition.
"The ancient Asian concept that 'food and medicine are one' has gradually also become accepted in Western countries" says Dr. Yun-Hwa Peggy Hsieh, a professor at Florida State University with a research interest in functional foods. "Foods no longer merely meet an individual’s basic physical needs, but are also expected to contribute to their health and wellbeing. Nutritional and epidemiological studies have provided strong evidence that many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer are linked to diet and the risks posed by these diet-related diseases can be reduced by the consumption of foods with extra measures of phytochemical antioxidants and with lowered fat content, especially saturated fat."

"Recent research, however, has begun to address the potential applications of nanotechnology for functional foods and nutraceuticals by applying the new concepts and engineering approaches involved in nanomaterials to target the delivery of bioactive compounds and micronutrients" she says. "Nanomaterials allow better encapsulation and release efficiency of the active food ingredients compared to traditional encapsulating agents, and the development of nano-emulsions, liposomes, micelles, biopolymer complexes and cubosomes have led to improved properties for bioactive compounds protection, controlled delivery systems, food matrix integration, and masking undesired flavors."

Nanotechnology also has the potential to improve food processes that use enzymes to confer nutrition and health benefits. For example, enzymes are often added to food to hydrolyze anti-nutritive components and hence increase the bio-availability of essential nutrients such as minerals and vitamins. To make these enzymes highly active, longlived and cost-effective, nanomaterials can be used to provide superior enzyme-support systems due to their large surface-to-volume ratios compared to traditional macroscale support materials.
When what we eat is nanoengineered to deliver precise and powerful anti-ageing nutrients, and remove those factors that cause obesity and disease, everyone will be better off.

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Spaceman Spiff said...

Or perhaps the near-complete elimination of natural consequences for our actions would precipitate the kind of insanity necessary to do something reaaaaaaalllly stupid...

It is interesting that though there is such an overabundance of food, the poor here still have to struggle to eat...

All you gotta do is advertise a free meal and people are lined up around the block. Its crazy, it really is.