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Nanotechnology is a promising field, but a lack of regulation means there is uncertainty over the safety of its implementation, particularly in developing countries. This week I received some unexpected insights on nanotechnology and its relationship with industry in different parts of the world. I have been visiting GIANT (Grenoble Innovation for Advanced New Technologies), an interdisciplinary alliance of research institutions in France devoted to promoting scientific development and building links between academics and industry.

“It’s a difficult balance between applying the precautionary principle and allowing for scientific potential,” explains Gauthier. “At the moment, we are not able to fully evaluate all the potential consequences that these new technologies may have, for example on the environment, but also on animals or the human population.” She says that some of the chemical components in nanotechnology may turn out to be difficult to control and may become dangerous to consumers and manufacturers.

“The leading R&D firms normally stick to ethical practices voluntarily adopted among competitors when they work in developed countries.” But they have more freedom not to apply these practices — or to test new ones — in developing countries, she says. This is because in developing countries there can be a lower awareness of the safest ways of deploying nanotechnology.

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