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Eradicate cancer. Retain and recall everything you can find on the Internet. Give your child a high IQ. Drastically reduce fatalities of U.S. soldiers involved in wars. Give sight to the blind. * Soon, you won't have to be God to fulfill this wish list. But you may not be human, either. * Such is the promise and peril of nanotechnology. First defined by engineer and scientist K. Eric Drexler in the '80s and '90s, nanotechnology uses tools that operate on the "nano" scale. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter in length. The DNA molecule is 2.3 nanometers wide. * Nanotechnology, then, deals with the manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular level. * While an average layperson may have seen some depictions of this technology, few know what its current and future applications are. Fewer yet can wrap their minds around nanotechnology's ethical implications.

Nanotechnology is developing in two ways. The "top-down" approach creates microscopic machines or delivery systems. The "bottom up" approach harnesses the biological world. For example, the ribosome, present in every cell, is an amazing nanoscale factory—it takes RNA, a long strand of translated genetic information, and turns it into a protein that can then serve as an enzyme. In either case, nanotechnology makes the stuff of miracles possible.

Oncologists use a biological nanomachine—antibodies attached to ball-shaped molecules—to deliver the radiation drug Zevalin to the cells specifically affected by lymphoma, which saves healthy tissue from exposure to radiation.

Wired magazine reported in September 2002 that the Dobelle bionic eye system enables the blind to see. And Optobionics Corporation in Naperville, Illinois, has so far successfully tested its artificial ...

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In the Magazine

January 2004

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