Richard Feynman conceptualized the field of nanotechnology in his famed lecture, titled, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. It turns out there is indeed much room for diverse applications in the nanoscopic world. Nanoscopic surfaces and particles exhibit properties that are very different from properties of matter in the macroscopic domain.
The machinery of a living cell is composed of parts which are very much like nano-machines. For instance, ATP synthase is basically a motor.
Nano-biotech or Bio-nanotech?
The difference lies in which field is advancing the other. When advancements in nanotechnology are used in biological research or medical applications, it is nano-biotech. While, seeing biological molecules as nano-machines and using them to build new things falls under bio-nanotech. The former takes a top-down approach whereas the latter takes a bottom-up one.
Nanospheres coated with fluorescent polymers that fluoresce on encountering particular molecules will allow us to detect very little quantities of metabolites. These would form part of future biological assays that track down cancerous cells and kill them before destructing themselves. Regenerative medicine is poised to gain a lot from nano-biotech.
As for bio-nanotech, DNA nanotechnology is a crucial field. It utilizes the basic properties of nucleic acids to create useful materials via self-assembly.Surface properties of lipids can be used to build nano-devices. Elucidation of mechanisms behind protein folding will allow us to synthesize novel proteins with precisely defined functions. Viruses are ideal models to replicate to build nano-delivery systems.
Here is an explainer video by Shawn Douglas and Jason Brown from UCSF.