Category Archives: food

Nanotech business news from Turkey and from Northern Ireland

I have two nanotech business news bits, one from Turkey and one from Northern Ireland.

Turkey

A Turkish company has sold one of its microscopes to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), according to a Jan. 20, 2017 news item on dailysabah.com,

Turkish nanotechnology company Nanomanyetik has begun selling a powerful microscope to the U.S. space agency NASA, the company’s general director told Anadolu Agency on Thursday [Jan. 19, 2017].

Dr. Ahmet Oral, who also teaches physics at Middle East Technical University, said Nanomanyetik developed a microscope that is able to map surfaces on the nanometric and atomic levels, or extremely small particles.

Nanomanyetik’s foreign customers are drawn to the microscope because of its higher quality yet cheaper price compared to its competitors.

“There are almost 30 firms doing this work,” according to Oral. “Ten of them are active and we are among these active firms. Our aim is to be in the top three,” he said, adding that Nanomanyetik jumps to the head of the line because of its after-sell service.

In addition to sales to NASA, the Ankara-based firm exports the microscope to Brazil, Chile, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea and Spain.

Electronics giant Samsung is also a customer.

“Where does Samsung use this product? There are pixels in the smartphones’ displays. These pixels are getting smaller each year. Now the smallest pixel is 15X10 microns,” he said. Human hair is between 10 and 100 microns in diameter.

“They are figuring inner sides of pixels so that these pixels can operate much better. These patterns are on the nanometer level. They are using these microscopes to see the results of their works,” Oral said.

Nanomanyetik’s microscopes produces good quality, high resolution images and can even display an object’s atoms and individual DNA fibers, according to Oral.

You can find the English language version of the Nanomanyetik (NanoMagnetics Instruments) website here . For those with the language skills there is the Turkish language version, here.

Northern Ireland

A Jan. 22, 2017 news article by Dominic Coyle for The Irish Times (Note: Links have been removed) shares this business news and mention of a world first,

MOF Technologies has raised £1.5 million (€1.73 million) from London-based venture capital group Excelsa Ventures and Queen’s University Belfast’s Qubis research commercialisation group.

MOF Technologies chief executive Paschal McCloskey welcomed the Excelsa investment.

Established in part by Qubis in 2012 in partnership with inventor Prof Stuart James, MOF Technologies began life in a lab at the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s.

Its metal organic framework (MOF) technology is seen as having significant potential in areas including gas storage, carbon capture, transport, drug delivery and heat transformation. Though still in its infancy, the market is forecast to grow to £2.2 billion by 2022, the company says.

MOF Technologies last year became the first company worldwide to successfully commercialise MOFs when it agreed a deal with US fruit and vegetable storage provider Decco Worldwide to commercialise MOFs for use in a food application.

TruPick, designed by Decco and using MOF Technologies’ environmentally friendly technology, enables nanomaterials control the effects of ethylene on fruit produce so it maintains freshness in storage or transport.

MOFs are crystalline, sponge-like materials composed of two components – metal ions and organic molecules known as linkers.

“We very quickly recognised the market potential of MOFs in terms of their unmatched ability for gas storage,” said Moritz Bolle from Excelsa Ventures. “This technology will revolutionise traditional applications and open countless new opportunities for industry. We are confident MOF Technologies is the company that will lead this seismic shift in materials science.

You can find MOF Technologies here.

Israeli cannabis-based nutraceutical to be sold in US

It seems the US company, Ananda Scientific [AS], is licensing a technology from Israeli company, Lyotropic Delivery Systems (LDS) Biotech, and they’ve [AS] contributed to developing  a new cannabinoid-based nutraceutical, which will be hitting US store shelves in the foreseeable future. Here’s more from a Dec. 5, 2016 article by

Sales based on Israeli startup Lyotropic Delivery Systems (LDS) Biotech‘s nanotechnology have started in the US. The commercial launch of its cannabis-derived compound, which aims to relieve inflammation and pain, was announced earlier this month by LDS and US based company Ananda Scientific at a marijuana business conference [Marijuana Business Conference & Expo] held in Las Vegas.

LDS’s new cannabis-based technology increases the amount of cannabidiol compound (CBD) absorbed into the bloodstream and is more effective than other available solutions, without a narcotic effect, the company said.

LDS and Ananda Scientific, a privately held Delaware corporation that produces and markets cannabis based products, entered into a licensing agreement in 2015. As part of the accord Ananda gained rights to LDS’s cannabinoid drug delivery nanotechnology for the development of cannabidiol (CBD)-based oral products. Ananda Scientific said it expects the sales of the new product to reach millions of dollars in the US alone within the first year.

The products will be sold over the counter in the US as they are marketed as a nutraceutical product — derived from food sources with extra health benefits — and not as a medication. They are based on a technology developed by Professor Nissim Garti from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and licensed to LDS by Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University.

CBD is a non-psychoactive antioxidant extracted from the cannabis plant that is rapidly gaining importance due to its numerous benefits to humans’ overall well-being. Unlike THC [tetrahydrocannabinol], which is the part of the cannabis leaf that makes you high, CBD is a nontoxic, anti-inflammatory substance that is very well tolerated by the body with few side effects, researchers say.

“We have developed nano-droplets that absorb on their interface only the CBD compound from the cannabis, and not the THC,” said Garti in a phone interview. “Unlike other CBD formulations that are available on the market and are dispersed in oil, our product is better and more quickly absorbed by the body. Our CBD formulation is also protected from being transformed, after it is ingested, into THC which is a risk factor in other existing products.”

The company said its nano-formulations can remain stable on shelves for long periods of time without release or decomposition of the bioactive material. The product is sold in a variety of liquid forms and can be dissolved into water or taken in drops under the tongue, Garti said.

Over-the-counter cannabis products are not yet permitted for sale in Israel.

Typically, when taken orally, the user does not generally benefit from the full effect of CBD: while in the gastrointestinal tract the compound transforms into THC, is destroyed during digestion, or fails to reach the bloodstream for other reasons. Thus, only a fraction of the ingested CBD yields any effect. In contrast, CBD coupled with LDS technology is not degraded in the gastrointestinal tract, and the nanotechnology enables swift absorption and greatly enhances the transport of CBD to the bloodstream and then to relevant sites in the body where it can take effect, Garti said.

For those interested in market sizes and other business details, I recommend reading Solomon’s article in its entirety.

You can find Lyotropic Delivery Systems (LDS) Biotech here and  Ananda Scientific here.

Walgreens (US-based pharmacy), As You Sow (civil society), and engineered hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles

As You Sow has graced this blog before, notably in a March 13, 2015 posting about their success getting the corporate giant, Dunkin’ Donuts, to stop its practice of making powdered sugar whiter by adding nanoscale (and other scales) of titanium dioxide. What’s notable about As You Sow is that it files shareholder resolutions (in other words, the society owns shares of their corporate target) as one of its protest tactics.

This time, As You Sow has focused on Walgreens, a US pharmacy giant. This company has chosen a response that differs from Dunkin’ Donuts’ according to a Sept. 21, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Rather than respond to shareholder concerns that Walgreens’ store-brand infant formula may contain harmful, “needle-like” nanomaterials, Walgreens filed a motion with the SEC [US Securities and Regulatory Commission] to block the inquiry.

A Sept. 21, 2016 As You Sow press release, which originated the news item, fills in a few details,

Walgreen’s Well Beginnings™ Advantage® infant formula has been reported to contain engineered hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles, according to independent laboratory testing commissioned by nonprofit group Friends of the Earth. The E.U. Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has determined that nano-HA may be toxic to humans and that the needle-form of nano-HA should not be used in products.

Walgreens’ “no-action letter” to the SEC argues that the company can exclude the shareholder proposal because “the use of nanomaterials in products … does not involve a significant social policy issue.” The company also claims its infant formula does not contain engineered nanomaterials, contrary to the independent laboratory testing.

“Walgreens is effectively silencing shareholder discussion of this subject,” said Austin Wilson, Environmental Health Program Manager of shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. “If Walgreens had responded to consumers’ and investors’ concerns, there would be no need for shareholders to file a proposal.”

“Shareholders will ultimately bear the burden of litigation if infants are harmed,” said Danielle Fugere, President and Chief Counsel of As You Sow. “Walgreens’ attempt to silence, rather than address, shareholder concerns raises red flags. To be successful, Walgreens must remain a trusted name for consumers and it can’t do that by sweeping new health studies under the rug.”

Nanoparticles are extremely small particles that can permeate cell membranes and travel throughout the body, including into organs, in ways that larger ingredients cannot. The extremely small size of nanoparticles may result in greater toxicity for human health and the environment.

The shareholder proposal asks the company to issue a report about actions the company is taking to reduce or eliminate the risk of nanoparticles.

In 2014, Dunkin’ Donuts reached an agreement with As You Sow to remove the nanoparticle titanium dioxide from its donuts. Starbucks plans to remove it from all products by 2017, and Krispy Kreme is reformulating its products to exclude titanium dioxide and other nanoparticles.

To seemingly dismiss concerns about their brand infant formula appears to be an odd tactic for Walgreens. After all this is infant safety and it’s the kind of thing that makes people very, very angry. On the other hand, Friends of the Earth has not always been scrupulous in its presentation of ‘facts’ (see my Feb. 9, 2012 posting).

2016 hasn’t been a good year for Walgreens. In June they ended their high profile partnership with blood testing startup, Theranos. From a June 13, 2016 article by Abigail Tracy for Vanity Fair,

After months of getting pummeled at the hands of regulators and the media over its questionable blood-testing technology, Theranos may have just been dealt its final blow. Walgreens, the main source of Theranos’s customers, has officially ended its partnership with the embattled biotech company, cutting off a critical revenue stream for founder Elizabeth Holmes’s once-promising start-up.

In a statement issued Sunday [June 12, 2016], the drugstore chain announced that it was terminating its nearly three-year-long relationship with the once $9 billion company and would immediately close all 40 Theranos-testing locations in its Arizona stores, The Wall Street Journal reports. Like so many in Silicon Valley, Walgreens fell victim to Holmes’s claims that Theranos’s technology, and its proprietary diagnostic product, Edison, would revolutionize blood testing and put its rivals, Laboratory Corporation of America and Quest Diagnostics, out of business. When it inked its deal with Holmes in 2013, Walgreens failed to properly vet the Edison technology, which was billed as being capable of conducting hundreds of diagnostics tests with just a few drops of blood.

You can read more about the Theranos situation in Tracy’s June 13, 2016 article and I have some details in a Sept. 2, 2016 posting where I feature the scandal and the proposed movie about Theranos (and other ‘science’ movies).

Getting back to Walgreens, you can find the As You Sow resolution here.

Synthite and its new ‘nano’ line of intensely coloured natural extracts

Synthite Industries, an Indian firm, has just announced a new line of intensely coloured natural extracts  using a nanotechnology process. There’s a little more detail in an Aug. 25, 2016 news article by Robin Wyers for foodingredientsfirst.com,

Indian extracts company Synthite has introduced a new line of colors derived from a nanotechnology process that offers a much brighter and better hue and therefore requires far lower dosages in use. Vextrano is the result of incessant research and scientific deliberations with an aim to give key characteristics to spices and spice derived products at an elemental level. The purpose of the exercise is multi-faceted with a view to develop an array of novel products that can achieve customized applications in food, beverage, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Ashish Sharma (…) at Synthite briefly explained the concept to FoodIngredientsFirst: “This is a new product range which we commercialized in the market two months ago. We have bought a new plant for the production of these products. We are deriving this range from natural sources. For red colors we are using chili or paprika. For yellow, turmeric, and for green colors we are using black pepper [piperin]. …

“The key thing,” he notes, “is that when we are reducing the size of the particles to a very small level [to a particle level of 180-200 mesh], the dispersion of the light in any solvent is very good. That’s why you get the hue of the color much better.” In scientific terms, the process of maximizing the various active ingredients in a spice by reducing the size and inter molecular porosity to a feasible and ideal extent, without altering its molecular structure, leads to reduced energy consumption, waste generation and time required to achieve the end result in an application.

Sharma stresses that there are no regulatory issues around the use of this new line.  …

Synthite is just starting to roll the product out into market. …

So far, however, the product is only being sold in India, but it will be exported too, with the next promotion occurring at Fi South America, which is currently taking place in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Vextrano is positioned as a vision for the future based on value addition to the bio-ingredients from spices. Synthite’s range includes: turmeric, spinach, piperine, marigold, paprika, black pepper, annatto and lutein.

Synthite Industries has a Wikipedia entry (Synthite Industrial Chemicals); Note: Links have been removed),

Synthite Industries Ltd (Synthite) is an Indian oleoresin extraction firm, supplying ingredients to the major food, fragrance and flavour houses. The company is based in Kochi. In 2008, it had 30% of the world’s market share,.[1][2]

The company was established in 1972 with 20 employees. It was founded by C.V. Jacob, who started the company after working in civil construction for two decades. Initially it produced industrial chemicals before shifting to oleoresins.[3] The oleoresin business was initially based on research by the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore. However, the technology developed was not yet mature, and it took several years of additional research and development by Synthite to make the technology viable. It took another four years before they convinced food producers that they could produce quality products on time.[2]

By 2008, it has grown to 450 crore and 1200 employees, with a 2012 goal of 1,000 crore.[1] The company achieved this goal, with a total of 2,000 employees. The company only began selling directly to consumers in its native India in 2014.[4] Some of its major clients include Nestle, Bacardi and Pepsi.[4] The company is currently run by the founder’s son, Viju Jacob.[5]

The company produces oleoresin spices, essential oils, food colors, and sprayed products. It also has products that are organic and fair-trade. The company also has investments in realty and hospitality.[1]

You can find Synthite here but I haven’t found anything about Vextrano on that site. However, there is a LinkedIn account for Vextrano here.

Nano and food discussion for beginners

I try to make sure there are a range of posts here for various levels of ‘nanotechnology sophistication’ but over time I’ve given less attention to ‘beginner’ posts, i.e., pieces where nanotechnology basics are explained as best as possible. This is largely due to concerns about repetition; I mean, how many times do you want to read that nano means one billionth?

In that spirit, this June 22, 2016 news item on Nanowerk about food and nanotechnology provides a good entry piece that is not terribly repetitive,

Every mouthful of food we eat is teeming with chemical reactions. Adding ingredients and cooking helps us control these reactions and makes the food taste better and last longer. So what if we could target food at the molecular level, sending in specially designed particles to control reactions even more tightly? Well, this is exactly what scientists are trying to do and it has already produced some impressive results – from food that tastes salty without the health risks of adding salt, to bread that contains healthy fish oil but without any fishy aftertaste.

But while this nanotechnology could significantly enhance our food, it also raises big questions about safety. We only have to look at the strong reaction against genetically modified foods to see how important this issue is. How can we ensure that nanotechnology in food will be different? Will our food be safe? And will people accept these new foods?

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that creates and uses materials and particles at the scale of a nanometre, one billionth of a metre. To get an understanding of just how small this is, if you imagine a nanoparticle was the size of a football then an animal like a sheep would be as big as our planet.

Working with such small particles allows us to create materials and products with improved properties, from lighter bicycles and more durable beer bottles to cosmetic creams with better absorption and toothpastes that stop bacteria from growing. Being able to change a material’s properties means nanotechnology can help create many innovative food products and applications that change the way we process, preserve and package foods.

For example, nanotechnology can be used for “smart” packaging that can monitor the condition of foods while they are stored and transported. When foods are contaminated or going off, the sensors on the packaging pick up gases produced by bacteria and change colour to alert anyone who wants to eat the food.

A June 22, 2016 essay by Seda Erdem (University of Stirling; UK) on The Conversation, which originated the news item, provides more information in this excerpt,

Silver is already used in healthcare products such as dental equipment for its antibacterial properties. Nano-sizing silver particles improves their ability to kill bacteria because it increases the surface area of silver the bacteria are exposed to. Israeli scientists found that also coating packaging paper with nano-sized silver particles [also known as silver nanoparticles] combats bacteria such as E. coli and extends product shelf life.

Another example of nanotechnology’s use in food manufacturing is nano-encapsulation. This technology has been used to mask the taste and odour of tuna fish oil so that it could be used to enrich bread with heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil particles are packed into a film coating that prevents the fish oil from reacting with oxygen and releasing its smell. The nanocapsules break open only when they reach the stomach so you can receive the health benefits of eating them without experiencing the odour.

Meanwhile, researchers at Nottingham University are looking into nanoscale salt particles than can increase the saltiness of food without increasing the amount of salt.

As with silver, breaking salt into smaller nanosize increases its surface area. This means its flavour can be spread more efficiently. The researchers claim this can reduce the salt content of standard crisps by 90% while keeping the same flavour.

Despite all the opportunities nanotechnology offers the food industry, most developments remain at the research and development stage. This slow uptake is due to the lack of information about the health and environmental impacts of the technology. For example, there is a concern whether ingested nanomaterials migrate to different parts of the body and accumulate in certain organs, such as liver and kidneys. This may then affect the functionality of these organs in the medium to long term.

Unknown risks

However, our knowledge of the risks associated with the use of nanomaterials is incomplete. These issues need to be better understood and addressed for the public to accept nanotechnology in food. This will also depend on the public’s understanding of the technology and how much they trust the food industry and the regulatory process watching over it.

Research has shown, for example, that consumers are more likely to accept nanotechnology when it is used in food packaging rather than in food processing. But nanotechnology in food production was seen as more acceptable if it increased the food’s health benefits, although consumers weren’t necessarily willing to pay more for this.

In our recent research, we found no strong attitudes towards or resistance to nanotechnology in food packaging in the UK. But there was still concern among a small group of consumers about the safety of foods. This shows how important it will be for food producers and regulators to provide consumers with the best available information about nanotechnology, including any uncertainties about the technology.

There you have it.

Biodegradable films from cellulose nanofibrils

A team at Purdue University (Indiana, US) has developed a new process for biodegradable films based on cellulose according to a June 8, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Purdue University researchers have developed tough, flexible, biodegradable films from cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls. The films could be used for products such as food packaging, agricultural groundcovers, bandages and capsules for medicine or bioactive compounds.

Food scientists Srinivas Janaswamy and Qin Xu engineered the cellophane-like material by solubilizing cellulose using zinc chloride, a common inorganic salt, and adding calcium ions to cause the cellulose chains to become tiny fibers known as nanofibrils, greatly increasing the material’s tensile strength. The zinc chloride and calcium ions work together to form a gel network, allowing the researchers to cast the material into a transparent, food-grade film.

A June 7, 2016 Purdue University news release by Natalie van Hoose, which originated the news item, discusses the need for these films and provides a few more technical details about the work (Note: A link has been removed),

“We’re looking for innovative ways to adapt and use cellulose – an inexpensive and widely available material – for a range of food, biomedical and pharmaceutical applications,” said Janaswamy, research assistant professor of food science and principal author of the study. “Though plastics have a wide variety of applications, their detrimental impact on the environment raises a critical need for alternative materials. Cellulose stands out as a viable option, and our process lays a strong foundation for developing new biodegradable plastics.”

Cellulose’s abundance, renewability and ability to biodegrade make it a promising substitute for petroleum-based products. While a variety of products such as paper, cellophane and rayon are made from cellulose, its tightly interlinked structure and insolubility – qualities that give plants strength and protection – make it a challenging material to work with.

Janaswamy and Xu loosened the cellulose network by adding zinc chloride, which helps push cellulose’s closely packed sheets apart, allowing water to penetrate and solubilize it. Adding calcium ions spurs the formation of nanofibrils through strong bonds between the solubilized cellulose sheets. The calcium ions boost the tensile strength of the films by about 250 percent.

The production process preserves the strength and biodegradability of cellulose while rendering it transparent and flexible.

Because the zinc chloride can be recycled to repeat the process, the method offers an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional means of breaking down cellulose, which tend to rely on toxic chemicals and extreme temperatures.

“Products based on this film can have a no-waste lifecycle,” said Xu, research assistant professor of food science and first author of the study. “This process allows us to create a valuable product from natural materials – including low-value or waste materials such as corn stover or wood chips- that can eventually be returned to the Earth.”

The methodology could be adapted to mass-produce cellulose films, the researchers said.

The next step in the project is to find ways of making the cellulose film insoluble to water while maintaining its ability to biodegrade.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A facile route to prepare cellulose-based films by Qin Xu, Chen Chen, Katelyn Rosswurm, Tianming Yao, Srinivas Janaswamy. Carbohydrate Polymers Volume 149, 20 September 2016, Pages 274–281 doi:10.1016/j.carbpol.2016.04.114

This paper is behind a paywall.

Australia and New Zealand weigh in on nanotechnology and food

Two reports from FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) on nanotechnology and food were released in early June 2016 according to a June 2, 2016 Science Media Centre New Zealand press release,

Nanomaterials currently used in food additives and packaging do not appear to pose a health risk but we will need to keep an eye on newer materials in the pipeline, reports Trans-tasman food regulator.

FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) has released two reports reviewing the evidence for the safety of nanotechnologies in food packaging and food additives.

Certain compounds, when engineered as particles measuring on the nano scale (one billionth of a meter), can exhibit certain properties; for example, nano-silver particles have antimicrobial properties.

More information can be found on the FSANZ website’s Food and Nanotechnology Report webpage,

In 2015 an expert toxicologist prepared two reports for FSANZ on the potential use of nanotechnologies in existing food additives and food packaging. The reports were then peer reviewed by an expert pharmacologist and toxicologist to evaluate whether the conclusions for each of the reports were supported by the weight of evidence in scientific literature.  The peer review agreed with the overall conclusions of the reports.

Scope of the work 

The consultant was asked to review publically available scientific literature on whether there is reasonable evidence of health risks associated with oral ingestion of titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide and silver in food.  These food additives may contain a proportion of material with at least one dimension in the nanoscale range. 

As an extension of this work, evidence of risks to health from nanomaterials used in food packaging was also investigated.

Key findings

  • The consultant reviewed the evidence on nanoscale silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and silver in food and found the weight of evidence does not support claims of significant health risks for food grade materials.
  • Titanium dioxide and silicon dioxide are used internationally in a range of food products and have been used safely for decades. They are approved food additives in Australia and New Zealand. Silver is also an approved additive in Australia and New Zealand but is permitted in very few foods.

  • Overall, the findings of the report are consistent with recently published information in the OECD’s Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials Sponsorship Programme for the Testing of Manufactured Nanomaterials toxicological dossiers on silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and silver.

  • There is no direct evidence to suggest novel nanomaterials are currently being used in food packaging applications in Australia or New Zealand, with most patents found from the United States.

  • From the case studies on the use of nano-clay and nano silver in packaging, the report concludes that there is no evidence from the literature of migration of nano-clay from packaging into food.  The nanoscale nature of nanosilver (whether used in packaging or food) is also not likely to be dangerous to consumer’s health. 

  • An independent peer review agreed with the overall analysis and conclusions of both reports stating that they were appropriately balanced in their reporting and that none of the nanotechnologies described are of health concern.

You can find (1) Potential Health Risks Associated with Nanotechnologies in Existing Food Additives here and (2)  Nanotechnologies in Food Packaging: an Exploratory Appraisal of Safety and Regulation here.

There is also a June 7, 2016 essay about these reports by Ian Rae for The Conversation,

We know that nanoparticles in sunscreens and cosmetics can penetrate the skin, and this raises questions about what they can do in the body. …

For the most part, I found the piece informative and interesting but there is one flaw as can be seen in the sentence I’ve excerpted. In fact, there is very little penetration by nanoparticles found in sunscreens as noted in my Oct. 4, 2012 posting and those findings do appear to have been contradicted in the years since.

Nanoparticles in baby formula

Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND

Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU [Arizona State University] researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND

Nanowerk is featuring an essay about hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in baby formula written by Dr. Andrew Maynard in a May 17, 2016 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

There’s a lot of stuff you’d expect to find in baby formula: proteins, carbs, vitamins, essential minerals. But parents probably wouldn’t anticipate finding extremely small, needle-like particles. Yet this is exactly what a team of scientists here at Arizona State University [ASU] recently discovered.

The research, commissioned and published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) – an environmental advocacy group – analyzed six commonly available off-the-shelf baby formulas (liquid and powder) and found nanometer-scale needle-like particles in three of them. The particles were made of hydroxyapatite – a poorly soluble calcium-rich mineral. Manufacturers use it to regulate acidity in some foods, and it’s also available as a dietary supplement.

Andrew’s May 17, 2016 essay first appeared on The Conversation website,

Looking at these particles at super-high magnification, it’s hard not to feel a little anxious about feeding them to a baby. They appear sharp and dangerous – not the sort of thing that has any place around infants. …

… questions like “should infants be ingesting them?” make a lot of sense. However, as is so often the case, the answers are not quite so straightforward.

Andrew begins by explaining about calcium and hydroxyapatite (from The Conversation),

Calcium is an essential part of a growing infant’s diet, and is a legally required component in formula. But not necessarily in the form of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles.

Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t automatically make it safe to ingest outright.

The issue here is what the hydroxyapatite in formula might do before it’s digested, dissolved and reconstituted inside babies’ bodies. The size and shape of the particles ingested has a lot to do with how they behave within a living system.

He then discusses size and shape, which are important at the nanoscale,

Size and shape can make a difference between safe and unsafe when it comes to particles in our food. Small particles aren’t necessarily bad. But they can potentially get to parts of our body that larger ones can’t reach. Think through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and into organs and cells. Ingested nanoscale particles may be able to interfere with cells – even beneficial gut microbes – in ways that larger particles don’t.

These possibilities don’t necessarily make nanoparticles harmful. Our bodies are pretty well adapted to handling naturally occurring nanoscale particles – you probably ate some last time you had burnt toast (carbon nanoparticles), or poorly washed vegetables (clay nanoparticles from the soil). And of course, how much of a material we’re exposed to is at least as important as how potentially hazardous it is.

Yet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the safety of intentionally engineered nanoparticles in food. Toxicologists have started paying close attention to such particles, just in case their tiny size makes them more harmful than otherwise expected.

Currently, hydroxyapatite is considered safe at the macroscale by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the agency has indicated that nanoscale versions of safe materials such as hydroxyapatite may not be safe food additives. From Andrew’s May 17, 2016 essay,

Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t automatically make it safe to ingest outright.

The issue here is what the hydroxyapatite in formula might do before it’s digested, dissolved and reconstituted inside babies’ bodies. The size and shape of the particles ingested has a lot to do with how they behave within a living system. Size and shape can make a difference between safe and unsafe when it comes to particles in our food. Small particles aren’t necessarily bad. But they can potentially get to parts of our body that larger ones can’t reach. Think through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and into organs and cells. Ingested nanoscale particles may be able to interfere with cells – even beneficial gut microbes – in ways that larger particles don’t.These possibilities don’t necessarily make nanoparticles harmful. Our bodies are pretty well adapted to handling naturally occurring nanoscale particles – you probably ate some last time you had burnt toast (carbon nanoparticles), or poorly washed vegetables (clay nanoparticles from the soil). And of course, how much of a material we’re exposed to is at least as important as how potentially hazardous it is.Yet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the safety of intentionally engineered nanoparticles in food. Toxicologists have started paying close attention to such particles, just in case their tiny size makes them more harmful than otherwise expected.

Putting particle size to one side for a moment, hydroxyapatite is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “Generally Regarded As Safe.” That means it considers the material safe for use in food products – at least in a non-nano form. However, the agency has raised concerns that nanoscale versions of food ingredients may not be as safe as their larger counterparts.Some manufacturers may be interested in the potential benefits of “nanosizing” – such as increasing the uptake of vitamins and minerals, or altering the physical, textural and sensory properties of foods. But because decreasing particle size may also affect product safety, the FDA indicates that intentionally nanosizing already regulated food ingredients could require regulatory reevaluation.In other words, even though non-nanoscale hydroxyapatite is “Generally Regarded As Safe,” according to the FDA, the safety of any nanoscale form of the substance would need to be reevaluated before being added to food products.Despite this size-safety relationship, the FDA confirmed to me that the agency is unaware of any food substance intentionally engineered at the nanoscale that has enough generally available safety data to determine it should be “Generally Regarded As Safe.”Casting further uncertainty on the use of nanoscale hydroxyapatite in food, a 2015 report from the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) suggests there may be some cause for concern when it comes to this particular nanomaterial.Prompted by the use of nanoscale hydroxyapatite in dental products to strengthen teeth (which they consider “cosmetic products”), the SCCS reviewed published research on the material’s potential to cause harm. Their conclusion?

The available information indicates that nano-hydroxyapatite in needle-shaped form is of concern in relation to potential toxicity. Therefore, needle-shaped nano-hydroxyapatite should not be used in cosmetic products.

This recommendation was based on a handful of studies, none of which involved exposing people to the substance. Researchers injected hydroxyapatite needles directly into the bloodstream of rats. Others exposed cells outside the body to the material and observed the effects. In each case, there were tantalizing hints that the small particles interfered in some way with normal biological functions. But the results were insufficient to indicate whether the effects were meaningful in people.

As Andrew also notes in his essay, none of the studies examined by the SCCS OEuropean Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) looked at what happens to nano-hydroxyapatite once it enters your gut and that is what the researchers at Arizona State University were considering (from the May 17, 2016 essay),

The good news is that, according to preliminary studies from ASU researchers, hydroxyapatite needles don’t last long in the digestive system.

This research is still being reviewed for publication. But early indications are that as soon as the needle-like nanoparticles hit the highly acidic fluid in the stomach, they begin to dissolve. So fast in fact, that by the time they leave the stomach – an exceedingly hostile environment – they are no longer the nanoparticles they started out as.

These findings make sense since we know hydroxyapatite dissolves in acids, and small particles typically dissolve faster than larger ones. So maybe nanoscale hydroxyapatite needles in food are safer than they sound.

This doesn’t mean that the nano-needles are completely off the hook, as some of them may get past the stomach intact and reach more vulnerable parts of the gut. But the findings do suggest these ultra-small needle-like particles could be an effective source of dietary calcium – possibly more so than larger or less needle-like particles that may not dissolve as quickly.

Intriguingly, recent research has indicated that calcium phosphate nanoparticles form naturally in our stomachs and go on to be an important part of our immune system. It’s possible that rapidly dissolving hydroxyapatite nano-needles are actually a boon, providing raw material for these natural and essential nanoparticles.

While it’s comforting to know that preliminary research suggests that the hydroxyapatite nanoparticles are likely safe for use in food products, Andrew points out that more needs to be done to insure safety (from the May 17, 2016 essay),

And yet, even if these needle-like hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in infant formula are ultimately a good thing, the FoE report raises a number of unresolved questions. Did the manufacturers knowingly add the nanoparticles to their products? How are they and the FDA ensuring the products’ safety? Do consumers have a right to know when they’re feeding their babies nanoparticles?

Whether the manufacturers knowingly added these particles to their formula is not clear. At this point, it’s not even clear why they might have been added, as hydroxyapatite does not appear to be a substantial source of calcium in most formula. …

And regardless of the benefits and risks of nanoparticles in infant formula, parents have a right to know what’s in the products they’re feeding their children. In Europe, food ingredients must be legally labeled if they are nanoscale. In the U.S., there is no such requirement, leaving American parents to feel somewhat left in the dark by producers, the FDA and policy makers.

As far as I’m aware, the Canadian situation is much the same as the US. If the material is considered safe at the macroscale, there is no requirement to indicate that a nanoscale version of the material is in the product.

I encourage you to read Andrew’s essay in its entirety. As for the FoE report (Nanoparticles in baby formula: Tiny new ingredients are a big concern), that is here.