Red tape delays synthetic horn project
Company aims to expedite ‘a legitimate conservation effort’ for rhinos
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.