Biotechnology has been hailed as a powerful force for social and economic change. But as never before, this excitement is tempered by the possibility that scientists could unintentionally create a calamity.
A new study published in The American Journal of Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism finds that cattle suffer large and long-lasting cognitive problems when exposed to tiny, highly reactive titanium dioxide nanoparticles.
The particles can harm an animal’s nervous system through oxidative stress, even when they are stored in tiny concentrations. This oxidative stress damages neurons and also involves the production of toxic chemicals that can harm animal well-being.
The production of chemicals occurs because the nanoparticles react with animal fats — with bone, fat, bone, and fat — inside the bloodstream. So they might contribute to the massive buildup of animal fat in the landfills in which it now is dumped.
Large amounts of new agricultural products would likely have to be made up — possibly leading to a huge increase in the number of cattle to feed the feedlots in which they are housed. Even more troubling, all of the ingredients involved in the production of some of these new products might have their own environmental problems, too.
Of course, the best way to combat these problems is to let the scientists do their research. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be funded, at least in part, by the public. The difference is that in some cases government investment will help steer the avenues down which the researchers can go, and in other cases the investments won’t in fact move the research away from a potential catastrophe.