In Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, a single rhino horn can cost about $100,000. The high demand for rhino horns, brought about by beliefs that it can cure various diseases including cancer, has led to the alarming rise in poaching rate of these creatures.
Today, three of the existing species of rhinoceros are critically endangered. If the issue remains unresolved, we may soon say goodbye to one of the world’s largest land animals.
This is why, Pembient, a California-based biotech startup, came up with the idea of producing synthetic rhino horns to put an end to such illegal wildlife trade. The finished products will be out in the market within months.
So how exactly did they produce rhino horns without rhinos?
In order to recreate the animal body part in the lab, the team fabricated a protein identical to the keratin found in rhino horns. The protein, which is produced in powder form, is shaped and manufactured using advanced 3D printing techniques until the product looks identical to the real rhino horn.
Speaking to the Guardian, Pembient co-founder Matthew Markus said: “We are working towards a bio-identical product by reverse-engineering rhino horn down to the smallest degree.”
“Our goal is that the only way you can tell the difference is that there will be pollutants in the wild horn,” he explained.
Inspired by the success of the legalisation of marijuana in the US, Markus thinks that the lab-developed rhino horns will have ready consumers that want legitimate source.
“One goal is to bring people out of criminal networks, many will prefer to have safety standards and quality that the black market can’t provide,” Markus said.
Despite Pembient’s promising innovation, many conservationists believe that the demand for real rhino horns can’t be reduced by the production of synthetic ones.