Poaching has claimed nearly 95 percent of the global rhinoceros population in the last 40 years, leaving the species critically endangered. Due to the incredible value of rhino horns on the illegal wildlife trade, attempts to curb poachers have largely proved fruitless. Made entirely from keratin protein, they are used in traditional Chinese medicine for their supposed healing powers. Now, a biotech startup called Pembient is hoping to help prevent the extinction of these animals by producing 3D printed rhino horns, which they aim to offer as a cheaper, sustainable alternative.
Pembient is using advances in biotechnology to fabricate a substance which is genetically and spectrographically similar to rhino horn. The company hope that by selling the substitute material at a lower price, they can disrupt the horn trade and reduce the incentive for poachers to kill the endangered animals. The startup is also working towards an elephant ivory substitute.
Another company using biofabrication to develop animal-friendly alternative produce is Modern Meadow. The Brooklyn-based startup is producing burgers and leather handbags, without killing a single cow. But while research shows that only 20 percent of Americans would eat meat grown in a lab, Pembient’s target audience is more promising: 45 percent of users surveyed said they would accept bioengineered rhino horn. What other animal products could be replaced by sustainable 3D printed versions?