Can rhino horn be copied like software?

FILE PICTURE: Rhino. Picture: AFP

FILE PICTURE: Rhino. Picture: AFP

MBOMBELA – San Francisco biotech company, Pembient, found it was possible and developed a faux horn that is genetically indistinguishable from the real thing, and it is spectrographically and genetically similar to rhino horn.

CEO of Pembient Matthew Markus said: “Synthetic biology is more about re-engineering microbes to do things. The company primarily engineers rhino horn powder in its labs, but is working toward developing solid horn substitutes. Co-founder George Bonaci and I do this by duplicating the cells, proteins and deposits in a rhino horn so the synthetic version is genetically similar to the real thing.”

Markus said his company surveyed users of rhino horn in Vietnam. “What we found was that 45 percent of people tested said they would accept using rhino horn made in a laboratory, while only 15 per cent would use water buffalo horn, which is the official substitute for rhino horn.”

He added there was a big need to continue with the tradition of using rhino horn without engaging in illegal or environmentally damaging activities.

“We can assist them in moving away from the wild product, and I believe this is a realistic solution to the poaching crisis.”

Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient and two traditional medicine practitioners from Vietnam. Pic: Supplied

Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient and two traditional medicine practitioners from Vietnam. Pic: Supplied

The “rhino horn is not medicine” message is, according to Markus, perhaps the worst demand-reduction campaign ever conceived.

He claimed it was based on a lie and said the only randomised double-blink trial of rhino horn found that it did indeed reduced fever in children. Surprisingly, this finding suggests rhino horn might actually be superior to Western medicine since acetaminophen is difficult to safely dose in children, and aspirin is linked to Reye’s syndrome. Secondly, in trying to negate over 2 000 years of tradition, the message becomes, “your ancestors were stupid”.

The other message that is of value to users in Vietnam is that this Pembient horn has been produced without the slaughtering of an animal, and that was welcomed by many surveyed users in Vietnam. The first public showcase of the synthetic horn will be at IndieBio’s demo day in mid-June in San Francisco. The company plans to sell its first batch of products on World Rhino Day, September 22 this year.

– Caxton News Service

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