Red tape de­lays syn­thetic horn project

Com­pany aims to ex­pe­dite ‘a le­git­i­mate con­ser­va­tion ef­fort’ for rhi­nos

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

its sam­ple from a zoo,” Markus added. He sug­gested it was “anti-sci­ence” to op­pose such a project. The pe­ti­tion says the project’s funds were trans­ferred to the univer­sity in late Au­gust. Murry’s lab ap­plied for two per­mits to bring the rhino ma­te­rial legally from Ntombi into the US. The ap­pli­ca­tion for the first of th­ese, an im­port per­mit, was sub­mit­ted to the US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice.

“The se­cond ap­pli­ca­tion, for an ex­port per­mit, ended up at South Africa’s De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs.

“We want Ntombi to make his­tory, but that won’t hap­pen if th­ese de­lays con­tinue.”

Markus said a con­tin­gency plan was in place.

“Murry’s lab had re­ceived what is said to be a black rhino arte­fact from a zoo­log­i­cal col­lec­tion. “A grad­u­ate student has de­rived DNA from this arte­fact. Next, cer­tain re­gions of mi­to­chon­drial DNA will be am­pli­fied and a phy­lo­ge­netic anal­y­sis will be con­ducted to con­firm the sam­ple is from a black rhino.”

If things went ac­cord­ing to plan, this DNA may be se­quenced in­stead of Ntombi’s DNA. In Fe­bru­ary, WildAid and the Cen­tre for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, cit­ing Pem­bi­ent, pe­ti­tioned the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion through the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice to ban the sale and ex­port of “syn­thetic” horn, which can­not be dif­fer­en­ti­ated from gen­uine horn.

“The prod­uct is cre­ated in part by in­sert­ing the rhino ge­netic code into yeast, which then pro­duces ker­atin, the pro­tein that pri­mar­ily con­sti­tutes rhino horn,” they said.

“Pem­bi­ent seeks to cre­ate an au­then­tic DNA sig­na­ture” by com­bin­ing the ker­atin with rhino DNA.

Eleanor Momberg, the rhino com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­ager of the DEA, says the de­part­ment is con­sid­er­ing Murry’s ap­pli­ca­tion but has noted “dis­crep­an­cies” in the orig­i­nal agree­ment with the ECPTA.


An SA Na­tional Parks ve­teri­nary ser­vices team col­lects DNA sam­ples from a white rhino. A bio­engi­neer in the US plans to se­quence the black rhino genome from a flesh sam­ple, but if an ex­port per­mit is not granted, he will use ma­te­rial from an arte­fact.

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