The meager effort to study risks associated with nanotechnology into the British Isles amounts to "virtually nothing," concluded Professor Sir John Beringer (PDF), who chaired the CST sub-committee which carried out the review. To bolster production of nanomaterials without adequately addressing potential impacts to health and safety is dangerous, the report concludes.
The promise of nanotechnology, creating and manipulating materials on a microscopic or even atomic scale, has fired the imagination of both industry and science communities worldwide. The independent Lux Research group estimates that sales of products containing nanomaterials exceeded $32 billion in 2005 alone. However, research has shown that normally inert materials can pose a danger when reduced to the nanoparticle level. For example, nanoparticles of gold have been observed bonding with DNA. The potential effects of such interaction with living organisms is still largely unknown.
The CST report also found that Britain may be falling behind in the development of new technologies and products in this fast-moving field. "In 2004 the UK was seen as a world leader in its engagement with nanotechnologies. It is now widely believed to have lost that leading position," Beringer said.