Livestock tracking has been a problem for farmers since before Little Bo Peep lost her sheep. Nano-Bo-Peep, however, would have no such problems. Just as converging technologies in crop production will use nanosensor networks to continuously monitor the health of plants, so, too, will sensors monitor livestock. The USDA envisions the rise of ‘smart herds’ - cows, sheep and pigs fitted with sensors and locators relaying data about their health and geographical location to a central computer.
Linking Nanosensors to Drug Delivery Systems for Animals and Humans
This is a vision of precision agriculture on the hoof. The long-term aim is not merely to monitor, but also to automatically and autonomously intervene with pharmaceuticals using small drug delivery devices that can be implanted into the animal in advance of illness. The notion of linking in-built sensors to in-built smart delivery systems has been called “the fuel injection principle” since it mimics the way modern cars use sensors to time fuel-delivery to the engine. The closest applications to market are implantable insulin-delivery devices or “drug chips” that will be linked with glucose sensors for (human) diabetics to automatically regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, this could become the model for all drug delivery, in both humans and animals.
Why Biocompatible Nanomaterials Are Very Suitable for Implantable Medical Devices
One of the current barriers to implantable medical devices is that their composite materials (e.g., metal or plastics) are often incompatible with living tissue. New materials, engineered at the nano-scale to be biocompatible, seek to address this problem.
Possible Industry Uses for Animal Tracking Devices
Implanting tracking devices in animals is nothing new - either in pets, valuable farm animals or for wildlife conservation. Injectable microchips are already used in a variety of ways with the aim of improving animal welfare and safety - to study animal behaviour in the wild, to track meat products back to their source or to reunite strays with their human guardians. In the nanotech era, however, retrofitting farm animals with sensors, drug chips and nanocapsules will further extend the vision of animals as industrial production units.
Nano-Eugenics: Possible Dangers in Using Microfluidics for Breeding Animals
Animals also are likely to be used as the testing ground for less savoury or more risky applications that could later be extended to human beings. Using microfluidics for breeding is likely to accelerate genetic uniformity within livestock species and also opens the possibility of applying new nano-eugenic technologies to humans in the future. The ability to remotely regulate animals may have adverse affects as livestock go longer periods without direct human care.
Implantable Microchips in Humans - a Threat to Civil Liberties or an Innovative Healthcare Product?
The same technologies transferred to humans raises profound concerns about quality of life and civil liberties. In October 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of implantable microchips in humans to provide easy access to an individual’s medical records - the first approval of microchips for medical uses in the United States.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Automated Drug Delivery for Humans
As healthcare is driven more and more by the bottom line, the future use of implantable chips for automated drug delivery may become economically preferable to nursing. When dealing with the elderly or those with different cognitive abilities or with any condition requiring regular treatment, ethical questions may arise about who decides to make an individual ‘fuel injected.’ Automated drug delivery could allow some people to live independently who would otherwise be institutionalised. However, the absence of human caretakers is also a factor.
Nano-Aquaculture - Fish Farming Looks to Incorporate Nanotechnology into its Future Products
The world’s fastest growing area of animal production is the farming of fish, crustaceans and molluscs, particularly in Asia. According to the FAO there were 45.7 million tonnes of aquaculture production in 2000 and it is growing at a rate of more than 9% per year. With a strong history of adopting new technologies, the highly integrated fish farming industry may be among the first to incorporate and commercialise nanotech products.
Emerging Nanotechnology Applications in the Aquaculture Sector
Cleaning Fish Ponds with Nanotechnology Devices
Nevada-based Altair Nanotechnologies makes a water cleaning product for swimming pools and fishponds called ‘NanoCheck.’ It uses 40 nm particles of a lanthanum-based compound which absorbs phosphates from the water and prevents algae growth. NanoCheck is currently undergoing large-scale testing in swimming pools and Altair is expected to launch a swimming pool cleaner in early 2005. Altair has its eye on a potentially large demand for NanoCheck for use in thousands of commercial fish farms worldwide where algae removal and prevention is costly at present. According to Altair, the company plans to expand its tests to confirm that its nanoparticles will not harm fish, but no mention is made of the tests that will be undertaken to examine the impacts of nanoparticle-laden run-off on human health or on the environment.
DNA Nano-Vaccines Using Nanocapsules and Ultrasound Methods
The USDA is completing trials on a system for mass vaccination of fish using ultrasound. Nanocapsules containing short strands of DNA are added to a fishpond where they are absorbed into the cells of the fish. Ultrasound is then used to rupture the capsules, releasing the DNA and eliciting an immune response from the fish. This technology has so far been tested on rainbow trout by Clear Springs Foods (Idaho, US) - a major aquaculture company that produces about one third of all US farmed trout.
Using Iron Nanoparticles to Speed Up the Growth of Fish
Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences have reported that young carp and sturgeon exhibited a faster rate of growth (30% and 24% respectively) when they were fed nanoparticles of iron.