April 15, 2004

Nanotechnology in action goats

This continues our series on traditional uses of organic nanotechnology. I was fascinated to learn from Ray Girvan about argan oil, which is produced in southwestern Morocco from the nuts of the argan tree, after they have been eaten and excreted by tree-climbing goats.

"When goats eat the fruit, the fleshy part is digested but the nut, because of its hard shell, is excreted. Later, the nuts are collected by farmers to produce oil."

"The production of argan oil, which is still mostly done by traditional methods, is a lengthy process. Each nut has to be cracked open to remove the kernels, and it is said that producing one litre of oil takes 20 hours' work."

So either the oil is really good; or the residents of this part of Morocco have a lot of time on their hands. I guess that the metabolic economics come out positive: a liter of oil should be good for about 15,000 calories, and 20 hours of work at nut-processing, assuming it's spread over three days, might consume 7,500 or so. Still, it's a tough way to make a living.

You can buy various "argan products" here, including a "natural beauty care serum" and a "tasty spread". The products are certified as organic by "Qualite-France", but for some reason they haven't thought to advertise them as the fruits of nanotechnology, despite the fact that the bacteria that help process the argan nuts are roughly 1 micrometer in size (e.g. Lactobacillus is about 1x2 micrometers, Pediococcus is about 0.8 micrometers in diameter), and their internal machinery is of course significantly smaller, well down into the nano range.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 15, 2004 09:33 AM