G.S. Early writes: I know that for more than a few of you, as soon as you hear the word "nanotech" your eyes glaze over and you fumble for the mouse.
But don't touch that mouse. Nanotech has come a long way and is becoming one of the most incredible technology stories of the decade, if not the century.
For example, what if I were to tell you that there's a microbe that has been discovered that actually produces gold? Nuts, right?
Well thanks to our ability to see how microbes interact with their environment, stunning stories like this one from Nature Chemical Biology in New Scientist are showing up:
"Delftia acidovorans lives in sticky biofilms that form on top of gold deposits, but exposure to dissolved gold ions can kill it. To protect itself the bacterium has evolved a chemical that detoxifies gold ions and turns them into harmless gold nanoparticles.
The nanoparticles harmlessly accumulate outside the bacterial cells.
The discovery is not purely academic, as it could be used on an industrial scale. Nathan Magarvey of McMaster University in Ontario led the team that discovered the bacteria's unique trick.
"This could have potential for gold extraction," Magarvey told the New Scientist. 'You could use the bug, or the molecules they secrete.'"
Another similar wild story appeared on the SingularityHub.com, a site that provides news about humans growing in union with artificial intelligence and technology. According to the site:
"3D printing technology is hot and getting hotter. Whereas once 3D printers were limited to a few select materials, these days inputs include metal, plastic, glass, wood, and-human cells? "
As Michael A. Robinson reported in Money Morning earlier this month,Autodesk Inc. (Nasdaq: ADSK) and Organovo Holdings Inc. (OTC: ONVO) have joined forces to "print" much-needed tissues or organs.
Already bioprinters are capable of printing small parts, like arteries or knee cartilage. And in the near term, the most likely use for this technonlogy is in drug testing-an $11 billion market in itself.
But eventually (years from now) researchers hope to print, not just the piston, but the entire engine-a new heart or lung-customized and made entirely from a patient's own tissue, limiting the probability of rejection by the body and doing away with long and uncertain waiting periods for donors.
Nanotech is Science Fact --Not Fiction
I know, this stuff sounds wild and far-fetched and hardly likely to supplant our comfortably held view of the world. But it's not coming. It's here. Now.
And it's because of nanotechnologies.
It's the ability to see things on a molecular level and then model and build on that level. Nanotech is responsible for 3D printing's ability to exist and revolutionize rapid prototyping and biomedical research.
It's the ability to build dendrimers that can deliver drugs and medicines to the human body to prevent AIDS transmission or act as a delivery mechanism that can give cancer or diabetes sufferers a new opportunity to live normal lives.
Four Nanotech Stocks to Watch
Like many of these new tech spaces, a thousand flowers will need to bloom before the sector begins to consolidate, so your best strategy is to take small positions in various companies and hope that either the company becomes a Big Dawg in the space or gets snapped up by a bigger player looking to grow its tech portfolio.
The other complementary strategy is to buy shovel sellers and not the gold miners.
With that in mind, here are a handful of interesting plays now in various spaces where nanotechnologies are kicking out some compelling products.
■CVD Technologies (Nasdaq: CVV) is a small, specialized company in chemical vapor deposition (CVD) with a division that specializes in building nanotech CVD equipment for research labs in the academic and corporate sectors. It also provides the expertise and training elements for the equipment, or will contract out for R&D. Its business continues to grow despite the harsh economic times.
■Of all the microscopy companies to choose from, I've always been partial to FEI Company (Nasdaq: FEIC). You can't do anything at the nano level unless you can see it. And FEI builds the equipment that allows researchers to see what's going on. It's one of the shovel sellers.
■Starpharma (Pink: SPHRY) is one of the gems of Australia's high-tech community. This company is a major player in the dendrimer space with some major products in US Phase II and Phase III trials. It also has great exposure in Asian markets.
■Inovio (Nasdaq: INO) is a vaccine maker that has bumped synthetic DNA-based vaccines up a notch. It has a very promising stable of vaccines in trials including a universal influenza vaccine, one for Hepatitis C, another for cervical cancer, etc.
On the 3D printing side, ADSK, ONVO and 3D Systems Corp (NYSE: DDD) are worth watching as well.
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