Can simulated rhino horn save wild rhinos from extinction? That’s what biotech Pembient, a maker of fabricated wildlife products, is hoping. Just as faux furs have satisfied the demand for real furs for many consumers, Pembient is putting its hopes on its lab-made rhino horn and elephant tusk to be accepted as reasonable substitutes by consumers and reduce poaching of these endangered animals around the world. Biotech incubator IndieBio recently announced its funding of Pembient as part of its inaugral San Francisco class. According to the announcement, Pembient hopes to eliminate the $750 million illegal rhino horn poaching trade by growing rhino horns made from rhino DNA and 3D printed keratin.
Powder made from crushed rhino horn has long been prescribed in China for its alleged ability to relieve ailments such as fever, liver problems, and hangover. More recently, in Vietnam, rhino horn has been prized for its mythical and completely unsubstantiated cancer-curing abilities. All this, paired with rapidly increasing personal wealth in these countries has created a black market for rhino horn, and has even inspired a spate of hunting trophy thefts across the world.
If Pembient can convince consumers that its manufactured horn is just as effective as the real thing, it might be able to stem the poaching trend and save the wild population. And even if “just as effective” is no more than completely ineffective, if it can stop or at least curtail the poaching of these animals, it will all have been worth it.