Bioengineered rhino horn is designed to counter poaching (Wired UK)


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When it comes to rhinos, pretty much all news is bad news. There’s no end to the desire for rhino horn in certain regions of the world, and as such there is no end to the reports of wild rhino being poached to the verge of extinction across Africa.

Pembient, a startup from Seattle, is trying its best to reverse this trend using biotechnology to fabricate genetically genuine rhino horn at prices below the levels that induce poaching. The demand for rhino horn is extraordinarily high, especially in China, where it is a valuable component in Chinese medicine.

“Our goal is to replace the illegal wildlife trade, a $20 billion black market, the fourth largest after drug, arms, and human trafficking, with sustainable commerce,” the company states on its website.

Formed by George Bonaci and Matthew Markus, Pembient was earlier this year admitted into IndieBio Accelerator, which funds biotech startups trying to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. In a lab in San Francisco, Pembient is now reproduces horns using 3D printing and keratin. To do this, the company has to figure out the genetic code of the rhino horn and rebuild it from the ground up.

Markus told TechCrunch that “you can’t physically tell the difference” between horn from a real rhino and horn that has been engineered in the lab.

He says that many wildlife traders would be happy to use a genetically engineered substitute for horn. “We surveyed users of rhino horn and found that 45 percent of them would accept using rhino horn made from a lab,” he says. “In comparison, only 15 percent said they would use water buffalo horn, the official substitute for rhino horn.”

The current plan is for the team to unveil its first product at IndieBio’s open day in June, and small quantities will then be put on sale shortly after that. A portion of the profits will be fed back to charity working to protect wild rhinos. Pembient also has ambitions to bioengineer other animal products from creatures like tigers and elephants that are poached for their body parts.

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1 May 2015 | 4:57 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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