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.