Before we zoom into nanoparticle applications, let us first clarify what nanotechnology is. Nanotechnology involves the development, characterization and application of materials with length scale typically between one and 100 nanometers. To illustrate, one nanometer is about 60,000 times smaller than a human hair in diameter.
Being able to control the structure and properties of materials at this length scale offers the food industry various new approaches to improve food quality, enhance flavor, extend shelf life, extend storage, track safety as well as increase nutritional benefits in food.
As the global population continues to rise, the need for food requires a significant increase in agricultural production. As the traditional methods to augment crop production are unable to meet this growing demand, researchers are working on nanotechnology tools to increase the production of food. Research by Technavio said that the global food nanotechnology market will grow at more than 24 percent annually until 2023.
How are these materials presently being applied in the food industry?
A major area within the food sector that utilizes nanotechnology applications is nanoencapsulation. Particle encapsulation is a standard process in the food industry that consists of encapsulating particles in a protective layer, covering or containment material to protect a sensitive ingredient or nucleus from adverse reactions.
This technology is also used to encapsulate food ingredients and additives to mask their unpleasant tastes and flavors, protect the encapsulated ingredients from degradation and improve the dispersion of water-insoluble food ingredients.
For instance, in the case of candies or chewing gums, as the flavor must be released in the mouth while chewing, cold water-insoluble materials such as gelatine, waxes or fats can be used for encapsulation of flavors to aid in flavor release by physical rupture (chewing) in the mouth.
The most significant synthetic nanostructured systems in food are polymeric nanoparticles, liposomes, nanoemulsions and microemulsions. Nanostructured food ingredients and additives often claim to improve food taste, texture and consistency. It also helps to enhance bioavailability and permit the mixing of previously incompatible ingredients in the food matrix. Examples of nanostructured foodstuffs include spreads, ice cream, yogurt and nano-salt.
Its usage in foodstuff can be categorized as direct or indirect. Direct use refers to the incorporation of nanostructured substances and materials in foodstuff. Some of the direct applications include fragrances, coloring agents, antioxidants, preservatives and biologically active components like vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols.
Indirect use comprises the use of nanostructured materials in packaging technology, sensors and the use of proficiently nanostructured catalyzers for the hydration of fats.
As farmers and food producers focus on sustainability and the protection of agriculturally-produced foods including crops for human consumption and animal feeding, nanotechnology has become one of the most important tools in modern agriculture.
Nanotechnology provides new agrochemical agents and new delivery mechanisms to improve crop productivity and it promises to reduce pesticide use. Its applications include:
In the field of veterinary medicine, nanotechnology has an incredible potential role in the improvement of the delivery of the drugs. It has a significant effect on veterinary prescription in numerous fields like therapeutics, diagnostics, tissue building, immunization generation and disinfectants. These newly synthetic atoms can provide medicinal drugs to treat animal diseases and guard them against viral or bacterial diseases and improve wound recuperation.
The ability to detect foodborne pathogens in food and water is important for the food industry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the US alone, 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness annually costing the government more than USD 15 billion each year.
Current techniques for pathogen detection include immunofluorescence, enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). But faster analytical methods are needed here and this is where nanotechnology offers the opportunity for alternative sensor platforms for the rapid, sensitive, reliable and simple isolation and detection of E. coli and other pathogens. Nanotechnology enabled detection techniques to include detections by luminescence using quantum dots or other metallic nanoparticles.
With rapid advances in nanomaterials and the life sciences, the demand for new technologies to answer continually evolving analytical challenges has never been greater.
This is why at DKSH Technology, we have set-up our regional Center of Excellence at Mahidol University, a leading research institution in Bangkok, to play a crucial role in providing support to our customers in Asia in the development of their nanoparticle applications.
Our Center of Excellence offers a full suite of leading-edge technologies for nanoparticle characterization as well as complementary analytical instruments for chemical, material and life sciences analysis from the world’s leading brands. We support numerous customers in the industry and in academia by providing access to our instruments in the lab and helping to solve their analytical challenges. If you want to learn more about our capabilities and expertise of our Center of Excellence, please reach out to me.
As nanotechnology continues to evolve around us, do share with me what you think are the other crucial areas this technology can further benefit.
Marco Farina joined DKSH in February 2016 as General Manager, Business Line Scientific Instrumentation, Business Unit Technology. He oversees global business development and has spent the last ten years developing and growing business in different emerging markets in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. He now lives in Bangkok with his wife and two kids.