by Virginia Gewin
Image by Charles O’Rear, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Stacey Harper has never been a farmer. In wooded Alsea, Oregon, Harper is more likely to be found hunting elk than sowing seeds.
Rather, it’s Harper’s work in the laboratory that links her to the soil.
A scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Harper is doggedly researching tiny, human-made substances called nanoparticles, with the goal of identifying which will be a boon and which a bane for farmers, consumers and the environment. Nanoparticles, which are the size of molecules, are already used in everything from sunscreen to biomedical devices. Their minuscule size makes them efficient, but also unpredictable. That’s what worries Harper: The first nano-formulations of pesticides are quietly making their way onto agricultural fields, and she wants to know what happens next.
An engineer as well as a toxicologist, Harper holds a unique perspective. She believes nanotechnology could help revolutionize farming just as it has medicine. But she sees the potential as well as the risks of nanopesticides. “I think the vast majority of nanopesticides will not be toxic” — or, at least, no more toxic to non-target organisms than current pesticides, says Harper. “We just need a way to identify that handful that may be hazardous.” Read Full Article »