Nanoparticles (NPs) are a broad class of materials including particulate substances having one dimension at least less than 100 nm [1nm = 10-9m]. NPs can be classified into various classes based on their shapes, properties, size, and the morphological sub-structure of the substance. Based on their physiochemical properties, they can be broadly categorized into:
- Carbon-based NPs
- Metal NPs
- Ceramics NPs
- Semiconductor NPs
- Polymeric NPs
- Lipid-based NPs
Nanoparticles have potential medical, environmental, industrial, and agricultural applications. Applications of nanotechnology have emerged with progressively improved use of nanoparticles in various fields of the food industry especially on food processing, packaging, storage, and development of innovative products. Nanoparticles enhance the bioavailability of nano-sized nutraceuticals and health supplements also improve the taste and flavor. Due to the antimicrobial characteristics of nanoparticles coated with metal and metal oxides can be incorporated into the food packaging materials to increase shelf life and keep it safe for human consumption. In human food processing, nanocapsules in the form of liposomes, micelles, or protein-based carriers have been used as nano-sized ingredients, additives, nutritional supplements, and in functional foods to provide protective barriers, mask the undesirable taste, controlled release, and better dispensability of insoluble additives without need for surfactants or emulsifiers.
Nanoparticles are an essential part of different biotic and abiotic remediation strategies and play an important role regarding the fate, mobility, and toxicity of soil pollutants. The efficiency and fate of nanoparticles are actively governed by their properties and interactions with soil constituents. In agriculture, nanoparticles aim to reduce applications of plant protection products, minimize nutrient losses in fertilization, and increase yields through optimized nutrient management. Nanoparticles that are nanoforms of carbon, silver, silica, and alumina-silicates minimize the number of harmful chemicals that pollute the environment. They can be profitably used for the control of several plant diseases caused by various phytopathogens.
Due to their unique quantum size effect and high surface-area-to-volume (S/V) ratio, nanoparticles have been considered for biomedical applications as diagnostic, therapeutic, and carrier agents. Nanoparticles such as quantum dots, superparamagnetic iron oxides, polymers, and lipid-based have provided significant improvements not only in conventional biological imaging such as fluorescence microscopy of cells and tissues but also in modern magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of various regions of the body. They offer several advantages including easy uptake by the cells due to their small size, a large surface-area-to-volume ratio, controlling the absorption and sustained release of drugs, and targeted delivery to specific sites. To provide protection from degradation or to aid in the absorption and distribution of natural antioxidants, polymeric nanoparticles can be used to encapsulate or incorporate small molecules. Nanoparticles acting as antioxidants further improve the vascular dysfunction associated with diabetes mellitus, hypertension, or atherosclerosis.
Releasing toxic chemicals from ongoing anthropogenic activities is responsible for numerous issues relevant to the ecosystem and human health including global deterioration of water, soil, and atmosphere. A wide variety of contaminants present potential problems, such as organics, carbon monoxide (CO), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), heavy metals, and radioactive species, in matrices such as soils, sediments, groundwaters, surface waters, and air. To meet the major challenges in environmental sustainability, these nanoparticles offer significant advantages in many of these processes in a more sustainable way. Nanoparticles provide a powerful method for the detection and treatment of trace pollutants in the environment. Iron, ferritin, and polymeric nanoparticles can be used for the water purification process. Nanoenzymes, nanofibres, nanobiocides, and nanofiltration techniques are also used for remediation of water contaminants. Carbon nanotubes, gold nanoparticles, and other adsorbents are used to clean the air from toxic gases such as CO, VOCs, and dioxins. Usage of nanocatalysts for sustainable air purification is still under development and further research is needed in this specific area.
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