Biofabricated Rhino Horn

What does a rise in innovative biotechnology and increasing numbers of poached rhinos yield? For Matthew Markus, the two were not mutually exclusive, and gave rise to the idea of growing rhino horns. Working with his own biotech start-up, Pembient, the biologist’s idea came to fruition in 2015, when their labs decided to start using the genetic makeup of rhino horns to reconstruct new ones made primarily of keratin. Currently, the method with the most potential to create viable replicas is tissue engineering. By providing a sustainable and competitive alternative to the rhino horns, Markus hopes to decrease the demand for the real thing, lowering the number of illegally poached rhinos. While the idea looks good on paper, the reality is that many alternatives already exist in places with large rhino horn markets, such as Vietnam, and the number of poached rhinos has not gone down. Many consumers of rhino horns purchase them because of their value in traditional medicine, and alternatives cannot supposedly provide those same qualities and health benefits. Nevertheless, Markus has received over USD$100,000 in funding; by honing in on creating an alternative of the highest quality, perhaps such bioengineered horns will stand up to authentic competitors.

Piaggio, A. J., Segelbacher, G., Seddon, P. J., Alphey, L., Bennett, E. L., Carlson, R. H., Friedman, R. M., Kanavy, D., Phelan, R., Redford, K. H., Rosales, M., Slobodian, L., & Wheeler, K. (2017). “Is It Time for Synthetic Biodiversity Conservation?“.


Artificial Life, Biodiversity, Illegal Resource Extraction