23 June 2015

Fake rhino horn

A San Francisco biotech startup has managed to 3D print fake rhino horns that carry the same genetic fingerprint as the actual horn. It plans to flood Chinese market with these cheap horns to curb poaching.

Pembient, based in San Francisco uses keratin — a type of fibrous protein — and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is then 3D printed into synthetic rhino horns which is genetically and spectrographically similar to original rhino horns
More details at Digital Journal, discussed at Reddit.


  1. I have to wonder how effective this would actually be. One of the redditors pointed out that demand for the real thing may be increased as a result. The ones with enough money to shell out for the "prestige" of having rhino horn are the major driver of the current market. That prestige will only increase if the market is flooded with fakes. And the rest---the TCM believers who buy it for its nonexistent medical value---believe the rhino's life history influences it's effectiveness. And that's completely removed in the fakes.

    1. "That prestige will only increase if the market is flooded with fakes." - but how will they know they have real vs. fake? If the market is flooded with "rhino horn" and everyone can have it, wouldn't prestige decease?

      And the tradtional Chinese medicine users wouldn't know the horn or its powder is fake. (A fake placebo, at that...)

    2. So, basically rhino white cells plus fingernail clippings. I think they'd pull it off better as pre-ground rhino horn; I seriously doubt a printed fake horn will pass muster, but maybe I'm wrong.

      Also, perhaps the manufacturers could add some beneficial ingredient that would make the artificial version even more desirable than the original. Maybe some statin, or a natural pain-killer, etc.


  2. I think it is a strong strategy so long as they really can put enough in the market to create uncertainty. As the famous 1970 paper "The Market for Lemons" shows even high quality / authentic goods see their price crash when bogus goods that the buyer cannot verify enter the market.

  3. I hope you're right, nolandda.

  4. Not announcing your plans would be a good start.

  5. It doesn't actually make much difference if primary buyers can detect if it's real or not, as long as the final customers can't. Most vendors won't look too hard if they can sell fake rhino horn at the same price as the real stuff.


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