Space & Innovation

3D-Printed Synthetic Rhino Horns Could Save Rhinos

San Francisco-based firm, Pembient, wants to leverage their expertise in biotechnology to stop poaching.

In China, rhino horn is worth more than gold. An ounce of it powered, which is used for medicinal purposes, sells for upwards of $5,000, and a fully intact horn can fetch $100,000.

No wonder these animals have been nearly poached to extinction. The black rhino is critically endangered and there is only one male Northern white rhino left - and that fella is under 24-hour guard. (Four females are also still alive.)

Poached Rhinos Reach Record Levels

The San Francisco-based firm, Pembient, wants to leverage their expertise in biotechnology to stop the slaughter.

Engineers there have figured out a way to turn keratin powder and rhino DNA into a substance that is genetically similar to natural rhino horn. The plan is to flood Chinese and Vietnamese markets, where demand is high, and bring down the price.

A marketing survey conducted by Pembient showed that 45 percent of people who use rhino said they would use horn created in a lab. That number is significantly higher than the 15 percent of people surveyed who said they would use water buffalo horn as a substitute.

The biotech company also wants to produce beer using the synthetic rhino horn, which is seen by some in Asia a way to treat hangovers.

Conservationists have pushed back on Pembient's plans, saying that producing the beer not only creates a market for a new rhino-horn based product, but that the prevalence of synthetic horn could drive up the price of natural horn even more. It could also reduce the stigma of having rhino-horn products overall.

Black Rhino Killed In Controversial Hunt

Pembient's website says that its goal is "to replace the illegal wildlife trade, a $20B black market, the fourth largest after drug, arms, and human trafficking, with sustainable commerce."

Whether a synthetic product can do that or not remains to be seen. Anyone who cares hopes that the results won't come in too late.

via Inhabitat

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