Biotech firm wants to stamp out poaching by 3D printing synthetic rhino horns
Could 3D printing be the key to stamping out illegal rhinoceros poaching?
San Francisco-based biotech firm Pembient certainly thinks so.
The start-up company is planning to flood the rhino horn market with a cheap and virtually identical substitute in a bid to make it unviable for poachers to go through the trouble of killing the endangered mammals in the wild.
Since rhino horn is mostly made up of keratin - the same stuff our hair and nails are made of, Pembient has thought of a way to 3D print synthetic rhino horn from a powder made of keratin and rhino DNA.
The result is a product that is indistinguishable - both genetically and chemically - from the real deal, without a rhino dying in the process.
With the synthetic product being sold at an eighth of the price of real rhino horn, Pembient is hoping that its product will force rhino hunters to go out of business.
CEO Matthew Markus said:
With curing hangovers one of the purported benefits of rhino horn, Pembient has teamed up with a brewery in Beijing to make a beer infused with their horn substitute.
While the plan could have its merits, at least one rhino conservation group has its doubts.
In a statement sent to Quartz, International Rhino Foundation executive director Susie Ellis said: "Selling synthetic horn does not reduce the demand for rhino horn (and) could lead to more poaching because it increases the demand for 'the real thing'.
"In addition, production of synthetic horn encourages its purported medicinal value, even though science does not support any medical benefits.
"And, importantly, questions arise as to how law enforcement authorities will be able to detect the difference between synthetic and real horn, especially if they are sold as powder or in manufactured products."