Monday, May 23, 2005

Small But Deadly 

Social scientist Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra of the National University of Mexico in Mexico City claims that the next decade could bring a new generation of WMD's based on recent advances in nanotechnology. And as with any potential weapon, if there's a chance the other guy might one day have it, our side undoubtedly wants it first:
In talking about nanotechnology-enabled weapons of mass destruction, Pardo-Guerra set aside long-term and purely theoretical nanotechnological innovations such as self-replicating nanorobots. "There are other nanotechnologies that are much easier to implement in the near term," he explained.

First, nanotechnology could make delivery of existing drugs more effective. For instance, pharmaceutical companies such as Elan in Ireland, Nanocarrier in Japan, and Solubest in Israel are working on nanoparticles that help the body absorb drugs. Elan noted up to half of all drug candidates show promise against their targets but are rejected because the body cannot absorb them due to poor solubility . . . .

"Nicotine is a poison in large amounts, something easy to produce. Delivering nicotine in lethal amounts is difficult but if you can develop something that could help nicotine go through the barriers the body has, you could make a weapon based on something that is not lethal," Pardo-Guerra said.

Second, by improving our knowledge of biology, nanotechnology could help find new ways to attack the body novel weapons inspectors might not recognize . . . .

Third, nanotechnology could help make chemical and biological weapons controllable.
"There are some medical applications under development that involve nanocapsules that deliver a drug when activated by temperature, or go to tumors and heat up when beamed with microwaves. The strategic advantage of those weapons is that you can contaminate as many people as possible and then selectively activate them," Pardo-Guerra said. "This scenario is quite difficult, but not impossible."

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