Carbon nanotechnology: The seedy underbelly

Carbon nanotechnology is extremely promising. It will provide cooler, smaller circuitry to relieve the rapidly aging silicon technologies, it has given us the Memristor, it will allow us to efficiently target and destroy cancer, build a space elevator, develop fuel cells, and a veritable plethora of other applications. And, with new methods of mass producing them being developed constantly, the future looks bright.

The past week, however, has not been kind to the development of carbon-based nano-technology. First, we found out that longer carbon nanotubes are rather unfortunately similar to asbestos in a disconcerting number of ways, particularly in how the long fibrous tubes behave. There is a chance, therefore, that they may well cause cancer in the same way that asbestos does: long fibers are inhaled, whereupon cells in the lungs, unable to deal with such long, thin fibers, freeze, inflame, and eventually scar and develop into cancer. There is no complete study on the issue yet, but the resemblances are alarming.

As well, it seems that Buckminsterfullerene, better known as the Buckyball, is capable of crossing over lipid cell membranes with almost no effort – this also means that they could, according to the laboratory that ran the computer simulation, cross the all-important Blood-brain barrier, which keeps our brain free of invasions and toxic elements. It remains to be seen what the consequences of buckyball invasion into cells are.

This turn of events is sobering and unfortunate, but that attention is being paid to these types of issues is certainly reassuring.

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