According to scientists at the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics (JBC), nanotechnology - the design and use of molecule-sized devices - is also likely to have wide uses in diagnosing disease and cutting air pollution.

"This is the most educated of educated guesses," JCB director Peter Singer said of the most likely applications for nanotechnology in 10 years, predicted in the JCB poll of 63 experts from around the world.

"If even half of those applications come to pass, it would be a huge boon for the developing world," he said.

The experts reckoned that energy storage, production and conversion would be the top use of nanotechnology in a decade, including more efficient solar cells, hydrogen fuel cells and new hydrogen storage.

Second was farming, where nanotech devices could increase soil fertility and crop production. Tiny devices could, for instance, be made to release fertilisers at a strictly controlled rate.

Third came water treatment - nano-membranes and clays could purify or desalinate water more efficiently than conventional filters and are a fraction of the size.

Singer said the study might give clues to investing in nanotechnology and contribute to UN goals set in 2000 of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.