A biotech company is now 3D printing genetically identical rhino horns to flood ivory markets to help stop poaching.
A new biotech company called Pembient, has begun 3D printing genetically identical rhino horns. They plan to flood the black market with these horns at a rate 1/8 the price of real horns taken from rhinos in the wild. They feel this will help put an end to the illegal ivory trade and put poachers out of business.
Every year rhinos are being pushed closer and closer to the point of extinction. People who buy ivory products believe that rhino horns have magical effects that may help treat illnesses, beautify the skin, and more. It is in higher demand now more than ever making ivory prices soar to over $30,000 a pound.
Ivory is nothing special. It is made of the protein keratin, the same thing our hair and fingernails are made from. Pembient has found a way to take that same keratin and combine it with rhino DNA to 3D print exact genetic replicas.
Pembient’s CEO Matthew Markus said, “We’re like the universal cutting agent. In the drug trade, usually a cutting agent is something that’s cheaper and inferior to product being cut. But if we can offer something as good as the product being cut but vastly cheaper, then anyone in the trade will naturally gravitate to using our product.”
In a recent survey on the market in Vietnam they found that only 15% of people are currently using alternatives to ivory like water buffalo. 45% loved the idea of a purer rhino horn made in a lab, and Pembient thinks they can get the other 55% to switch once they try it.
The International Rhino Foundation warns this could do more harm than good. By creating these artificial horns they are backing the unproven science that rhino horns can actually treat illnesses and make skin smoother.
They also think it will make it harder for authorities to catch poachers with Pembient’s horns on the market. The Pembient horns look so realistic to actual horns, they will be hard to tell apart. Pembient thinks a DNA watermark could easily solve that issue.
Pembient isn’t just looking at only producing rhino horns, but have their eyes set on a much bigger picture. They are already attempting to 3D print elephant tusks in the same fashion to really corner the ivory market and eliminate the black market altogether.