9 June 2021

Nanobiotechnology and its potential applications

By Dr Armstrong Ighodalo Omoregie & Ts. Dr Hj. Muhammad Khusairy bin Bakri

Biotechnology has become a household name. We come across the word and its technological products wherever we are. Biotechnology simply refers to the use of biological systems or living organisms (at microscale or macroscale) to develop various products such as the recently developed Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines being administered to people around the world.

However, the term nanobiotechnology may not be so well known. Biotechnology on a nanoscale is referred to as nanobiotechnology. Nanobiotechnology involves the use of both inorganic and organic engineering to address complicated biological problems.

Nanobiotechnology is a multidisciplinary field of science that incorporates nanotechnology with biotechnology. Nanobiotechnology utilises diverse technologies from engineering, physicochemical and biological of science at a nano-structural level for various real-world applications (i.e. pharmaceutical and medicine, food and agriculture).

The study areas of nanobiotechnology first look into nanotechnological techniques and processes for the study and regulation of biological systems. The second aspect looks into the use of biological systems as templates in the development of nanoscale products.

In terms of drug distribution, cosmetics, and environmental usage, the implementation of nanobiotechnology has increasingly evolved. In comparison to micro and microparticles, nanoparticles have a high surface-to-volume ratio. As a result, they are attracted to the biological environment and transport the target particles to the desired location.

Seeds, microalgae, bacteria, fungi, and animals have also been included in the biosynthesis of nanoparticles. Since it does not require high pressure, energy, humidity, or toxic chemicals, green synthesis is less expensive, more environmentally friendly, and easier to scale up than chemical and physical processes.

Biodegradable nanoparticles are now widely used to improve the therapeutic efficacy of various water-soluble and insoluble prescription drugs and bioactive molecules by increasing their bioavailability, solubility, and retention period. Also, the treatment costs and toxicity hazards are minimised for this nanoparticle medication design. An exciting new approach in cancer therapy is encapsulating material in a biocompatible medium that can be delivered into the bloodstream to transmit the drug to a tumour location.

Nanobiotechnology in food processing has been frequently highlighted in recent years. Bio-nanocomposites for food processing applications, as well as bio-based materials like edible and biodegradable nanocomposite films, have recently received a lot of interest. Because of their antimicrobial properties, silver and related metal nanoparticles have been used in a range of nano-based consumer items.

Improved surface area/smaller particle size improves antimicrobial effectiveness, according to studies. Nanobiotechnology study in food involves adding enzymes, antimicrobials, biosensors, and other nanomaterials to food materials. Nanoparticles made from food are used to improve product properties in the medicinal, pharmacy, and cosmetics industries.

Nanomaterials are suitable for label-free identification and the development of biosensors with increased sensitivity and reaction times because of this property, which is coupled with excellent electronic and optical properties. Magnetic nanoparticles, especially iron magnetic nanoparticles, may help with food analysis, protein/enzyme immobilization, protein purification, and water treatment.

The hydrophobic surfaces and large surface area to volume ratio of these nanoparticles cause them to clump together in biological media and magnetic fields, resulting in heterogeneous size distribution patterns. This limits their use in a few areas, including medicine.

Magnetic nanoparticles may be coated or encapsulated to overcome the above problems. Traditional pathogen detection methods, such as colony count estimation, will take a long time to complete, ranging from 24 hours for E. Coli to 7 days for Listeria monocytogenes. This renders the consistency of semi-perishable products incredibly challenging.

Thanks to developments in nanomaterial manipulation, nanomaterials can now bind a wide range of biomolecules, including bacteria, pathogens, proteins, and nucleic acids. One of the most significant advantages of using nanomaterials for biosensing is that their large surface area facilitates the immobilization of a broader spectrum of biomolecules, thus raising the number of reaction sites available for interaction with a target species.

Polysaccharides, lipids, surfactants, and dendrimers have gotten a lot of attention because of their outstanding physical and biological properties in nanobiotechnological studies. Iron oxide nanoparticles are commonly used in a wide range of medical applications.

Nano-sensors are advancing promising agriculture and food processing innovations. They offer significant improvements in selectivity, speed, and sensitivity as compared to traditional chemical and biological approaches, and they can be used to detect microbes, contaminants, pollutants, and the freshness of nutrients. On the other hand, nano-biosensors are nano-sensors that combine biology, chemistry, and nanotechnology to be used in food analysis.

Biosurfactants are interfacial stress relievers that are produced or excreted at the microbial cell surface. Biosurfactants have also been tested in environmental applications, cosmetics, foods, medical industries, industrial cleaners, and agricultural chemical materials.

Food micro and nano-emulsions are made up of fat, water, and a surfactant. The surfactant helps to reduce interfacial tension by assisting in the removal of nanosized particles. From production to processing to distribution to point-of-sale, food-borne pathogens must be monitored across the food supply chain. Low numbers of pathogens may be identified in a sample for study, rendering detection difficult.

Nanobiotechnology may still be in its infancy in terms of global development, however, its implementation is vastly promising. The increase of nanobiotechnological-based research will provide new scientific innovations and discoveries, solutions to existing real-world problems, and economical contributions to the communities.

The world needs new nano drugs that have high delivery systems to their targeted sites, safe for consumption and cost-efficient. Nanobiotechnology is ‘the now’ and ‘the future’ only if we are willing to invest or expand our research and development aptitude of this technology.

Dr Armstrong Ighodalo Omoregie is a postdoctoral scholar at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He can be reached via email at aomoregie@swinburne.edu.my.

Ts. Dr Hj. Muhammad Khusairy bin Bakri is a Swinburne alumnus. He can be reached via email at mbakri@swinburne.edu.my.