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Nanobiotechnology April 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Ivona Petrache

Engineered Nanomaterials under New EU Legislation for Novel Foods

Why is this topic significant?

The revised EU regulation about novel foods will have a significant impact on the use of engineered nanomaterials in foods, potentially encouraging both the development of foods containing nanomaterials and new developments for the nanomaterials industry.

Description

Engineered nanomaterials could benefit the food industry by improving the quality and safety of food. However, concerns exist about the inclusion of nanomaterials in food. To create a safety barrier around the use of food nanomaterials, regulatory agencies are developing legal regulations to manage any potential side effects associated with engineered nanomaterials.

In November 2015, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted a new regulation (EU No 2015/2283) for novel foods, redefining specific references for nanomaterials. The revised regulation recommends that a new definition for engineered nanomaterials should replace the former definition from EU No 1169/2011. The definition still describes the structural dimensions of nanomaterials to be 100 nanometers or less but classes any food as a nanomaterial if the material is part of aggregates, with a size above 100 nanometers, that retain the properties characteristic at the nanoscale. As a result of these regulations, the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) will have to reassess nanomaterials and vitamins that "contain or consist of" engineered nanomaterials as novel foods. Under the revised regulation, food producers will submit an assessment to EFSA for any new nanomaterials not on the authorized list of novel foods. Food producers will also have to prove, through detailed scientific methodology, that their test methods for assessing the safety of new nanomaterials are suitable and up to date.

Implications

The new regulation intends to simplify and accelerate authorization of company applications for novel food approvals. At the same time, the regulation includes the new definition for engineered nanomaterials but leaves room to accommodate future updates to the definition that take into account advances in science or internationally agreed definitions (such as the European Commission's review of the definition of nanomaterials, which will conclude this year). However, the industry has concerns about aspects of the new definition—for example "discrete functional parts"—and how its ambiguity could generate uncertainties among producers. Small and medium-size enterprises will likely need to access additional guidance in order to clarify uncertain elements. Furthermore, few explicit guidelines exist for the most up-to-date test methods, which calls into question the appropriateness of certain safety methods for testing engineered nanomaterials.

Impacts/Disruptions

Companies such as Nanox—which develops bactericidal materials for food packaging based on a silica and silver nanocomposite—will likely encounter difficulties in releasing its products to the EU market. Under the new EU regulation, Nanox's macroscale materials will be assessed by EFSA as new nanomaterials, delaying the company's access to the EU food market.

However, the revised EU regulation will likely shorten the approval period for novel foods and will most likely help the EU market to become increasingly attractive to food manufacturers. For food giants such as Kraft, Nestlé, and Unilever—which are actively investing in improving foods through the addition of engineered nanomaterials—the new EU regulation will provide a more simplified route to market than is currently available. Although certain aspects of the new regulation for engineered nanomaterials in food will generate uncertainties, food producers will have clearer requirements for submitting new proposals. This factor will progressively enhance the use of nanomaterials in foods.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Agriculture, food and drink, environmental remediation, nutrition, health and wellness, R&D

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Fighting Bacteria with Gold Nanotechnologies

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers are working to prevent a possible postantibiotic era with novel combination techniques based on gold nanoparticles. The novel gold nanotechnology has great potential to reduce the spread of microbial resistance to antibiotics.

Description

Gold nanoparticles in combination with lasers are stimulating scientists to develop methods that can efficiently induce physical damage to multi-drug-resistant bacteria through photothermal activity. For example, in March 2016, a group of researchers at the University of Houston revealed a gold-nanodisk system that photothermally inactivates temperature-resistant bacteria colonies. The gold nanodisks have a sponge-like structure that enhances their efficiency without decreasing their stability. According to the scientists' results, the laser causes the surface of the nanodisks to reach temperatures of up to 180 degrees Celsius instantly, "delivering thermal shocks" and inducing apoptosis in the bacteria cells within 25 seconds—5 seconds for Escherichia coli and 25 seconds for heat-resistant bacteria.

Similarly, a team of researchers from the Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio, Texas, use gold nanospheres functionalized with biotinylated antibodies and laser pulses to physically damage colonies of methicillin-sensitive (MS) and -resistant (MR) Staphylococcus aureus (SA). The method significantly decreases the survival rate of bacterial colonies—31% of MSSA and 58% of MRSA survived. The researchers plan to improve this technique to eliminate the bacterial infection completely.

Implications

The researchers' approach to killing bacteria by using gold nanoparticles is straightforward to use and more accurate than other methods, such as dry-heat sterilization or boiling water.

Although the gold nanodisks are likely to be more efficient and give a quicker response than the gold nanospheres, both technologies are important for use in biomedical applications. Both research groups are developing their gold nanotechnology for hospital staff to use as protective coatings for medical devices. The researchers are hoping that these solutions will help decrease the number of infections or the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals.

Despite the small differences in the two gold nanotechnologies—size, shape, and functionalities of the systems—both remain viable strategies for inducing physical damage to resistant bacteria through laser-induced photothermal therapy.

Impacts/Disruptions

Increasing antibiotic resistance and decreasing numbers of new antibiotics reaching the market are the key drivers motivating scientists to develop innovative approaches to fighting bacteria. Antibiotic resistance is a serious global concern that is affecting the ability of hospitals to treat common bacterial infections.

New developments based on gold nanotechnologies could help improve antibiotic-free treatments and prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In addition, the use of gold nanoparticles in coatings to reduce or eliminate bacterial infections has a clear application in water filtration as well as for sterilizing medical instruments and devices.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Medicine, biomedical, pharmaceuticals, water

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: