Could ivory be made synthetically?

  1. Since there is no way to stop poachers from killing elephants for their tusks maybe the best way would be to make ivory synthetically like insulin or growth hormone is made? I mean there is potentially really big market for that so if somebody finds a way he would be rich.
  2. jcsd
  3. Greg Bernhardt

    Staff: Admin

  4. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Would there really be a big market for it? I don't know much about ivory but I thought its popularity was not to do with its uses (for which there are few) but with its rarity? What kind of things must be built with ivory and cannot use different materials?
  5. f95toli

    f95toli 2,468
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    There are already good replacement materials for the applications where Ivory traditionally was used. A good example would be musical instruments (keys on a piano, the nut of a guitar etc).

    Hence, there is no practical reason why you would use ivory for anything. It is basically valuable because it is rare. In addition to this you also have people who use it in traditional medicin etc, but then they are after the "magical" properties; i.e. there is no scientfic basis.
  6. Well people use it for something either for decoration or medicine. Just see this article that appeared few days ago:

    Deadly Combo: 91 Elephants Slaughtered by Poachers Using Cyanide From Illegal Gold Mines

    So making it synthetically would really help elephants by flooding the market with fake ivory so that it's price drops down and therefore even confuse people that perhaps use it for medicine and need from "real" elephant.
    I mean if scientists are planning to clone whole mammoth couldn't they also create tusks?
  7. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    The market is illegal anyway so unless you're suggesting an organisation attempts to sell synthetic ivory through an illegal market it will be obvious where the ivory is coming from. Although I suppose if you sold it in shops cheaply illegal dealers in ivory might buy that and sell it on at a higher price...maybe.

    As for the practicality tissue engineering as a science is quite young and at the moment focused almost entirely on medicine. Whilst some aspects might be transferable it's unlikely that anyone will get funding for an issue like this. Re: the mammoth comment I'm afraid that isn't how it works, that's akin to saying "a fertile man and woman can make a baby so surely the could make a human heart when needed?" Tissue engineering relies on a multitude of techniques but mainly creating a tissue scaffold, infiltrating it with appropriate cell culture and controlling the environment to make those cells form desirable tissue. It isn't easy though, not by a long shot.
  8. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Forgot to mention that tissue engineering costs: a lot. I don't know how much a kg of natural ivory would sell for but I doubt it would be less than a kg of synthetic.
  9. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    I doubt synthetic and natural ivory would be really indistinguishable. And as long as it is possible to check which one is which, people willing to pay already high price for the real thing will be still buying the real thing. Those that don't care already buy things that only look like ivory, so they won't switch to the synthetic one. IMHO there is no market for such thing (unless it would become fashionable between snobs).
  10. AlephZero

    AlephZero 7,244
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Most of the plastic that replaced ivory keys is a pretty poor alternative in terms of "feel," because it doesn't absorb moisture. It gets slippery when damp, and then sticky when the water evaporates but the residual olls etc remain. The reason plastic piano keys replaced ivory or bone starting in the 1930s was cost, not quality or wildlife conservation.

    Not to mention the problems of restoring old instruments without vandalizing them. The CITES regulations are fairly nonsensical here. Sale of "pre-ban" ivory is legal provided you do the paperwork correctly, but doing any "restoration work" on the ivory beings it within the scope of the CITES ban!

    Actually it gets even worse with old pianos, because they may also contain whalebone springs which can't be legally traded.

    But the good news is, you can still legally use mammoth ivory, if you can find some in a Siberian swamp!
  11. Yeah and most of people here talk like ivory market is something so obscure, as if people all around you don't have rings, bracelets, necklaces or earrings made out of ivory and to be honest I think they would be happy with synthetic ivory just as well. Especially if it was mammoth ivory then even synthetic mammoth ivory would be more exotic then real elephant's.
    Also I think it could have a great market potential by replacing plastic and wood in many products and beside being better then them it's also bio-degradable.
  12. f95toli

    f95toli 2,468
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    First of all, I don't know ANYONE who has jewellery made from ivory.
    That said, I am of course aware that it exists. However, one of the main reasons why ivory is still used for this purpose it that it is rare and therefore expensive. Synthetic versions of scarce natual " resources" are never going to be as attractive to many people. Another example of this is diamonds, it is possible to make fairy big artifical diamonds and unless you are en expert there is no way you can distinguish it from natural diamond. However, natural diamond is much, much more expensive than artificial diamond which is precisely what makes it much more desirable.

    The situation is the same with ivory: the very fact that it is difficult to get hold of and expensive is what makes it attractive to the small minority of people who want to buy it.
  13. Actually I wouldn't compare it to diamonds because to make a really good diamond you need a LOT of pressure which means a lot of energy, so much energy that it's cost would be as one in nature. So synthetic diamonds that are made are really low on purity but are good for the uses in industries for like cutting stones and glass...

    Recently scientists announced how they made first hamburger from lab-grown meat and they served it at press conference to prove that growing meat in labs could reduce the impact of livestock production on the environment. source
    So if they can grow meat and hamburgers why not bone and ivory?
  14. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Because the processes are not transferable, look into any tissue engineering paper and you'll see a wide range of methods because what works for a group of fibroblasts won't necessarily work for a group of osteoclasts. This is a field in its infancy (I should know, I'm in it). Furthermore that "burger" whilst edible did not resemble a burger in taste, texture, smell or even look and it cost over a quarter of a million pounds.

    Whilst it's by no means impossible to envision that a series of well funded projects could eventually produce a technique to make ivory (though it's a stretch to think they could do it in bulk for an affordable cost) all that money would be better spent on conservation, education and anti-poacher security. In all matters like this you have to think of the return on investment rather than jumping to the complicated and cool sounding technology that doesn't exist yet.
  15. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    When I was young, it was legal to buy ivory. I do own carved ivory earrings that were sent to me by my aunt on one of her trips to Africa (back when it was legal), and an antique carved ivory jewelry box passed down to me from my mother. You could buy large, incredibly elaborate carved ivory pieces for very little from stores like Pier One. They were a bit too gaudy for my taste, so I never bought any, but I also was so naive that I believed that elephants would occasionally shed their tusks and regrow them, so it was OK. (don't ask, I was raised under a rock - by wolves).
  16. Well here is some talk about growing bone and how some doctors did it with stem cells. Like from this article
    Scientists have grown human bone from stem cells in a laboratory.
    The development opens the way for patients to have broken bones repaired or even replaced with entire new ones grown outside the body from a patient's own cells.
    The researchers started with stem cells taken from fat tissue. It took around a month to grow them into sections of fully-formed living human bone up to a couple of inches long.

    Stem cells, known as mesenchymal stem cells, which have the capacity to develop into many other types of cell in the body, are obtained from the patient's fat using liposuction.
    These are then grown into living bone on the scaffold inside a "bioreactor" – an automated machine that provides the right conditions to encourage the cells to develop into bone.

    Dr Shai Meretzki, chief executive of Bonus BioGroup, added that they hoped to develop the technology in the future to provide replacements for damaged joints such as hips.
    He said: "It is the same type of technology, but the equipment would be different for bigger bones."

    And yeah everything is pricey at first when it's made in one lab in the world.
    Yeah right throwing money to educating people on how not to buy ivory...
  17. How about aggressively breeding elephants anywhere they can survive, in America, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, etc.? How about educating the poachers to narc the elephants, carefully remove only the last few feet of the tusk ( not the part inside the poor animal's lips up to the gums etc), and then letting the animal live to reproduce more animals. Dead elephants don't mate. I seem to remember that elephants have mating patterns similar to other large mammals such as bears, i.e. there is one alpha male in a group that has mating privileges, and the other males are shooed away by this one bull until he is too old or weak to mate. If the poachers could be educated NOT to kill this one alpha male, and not kill any females, but only take the males that are unsuccessful at mating, wa la. Of course they would have to leave one or two non-mating young males in a group to eventually aspire to be alpha some day. I think it's a mistake to burn or grind up confiscated ivory. That only drives up the price of ivory making it more appealing to would be poachers.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2013
  18. Come on, Selrahc, how naiive are you? Educating poachers?! Don't you think that people in the poaching business already failed the education system? And why not, when we're at it allow people in Africa to have the money from their rich deposits of minerals instead of just letting big international companies steal it?
    All in all education wouldn't work. I mean just imagine yourself and let's say you are very poor, not living on the street poor but poor and there is a heard of elephants few miles away and just one tusk would buy you all those sweet and desarible stuff starting with "i" and "Mac" and a car and a better apartment... Maybe you would still stick to your integrity but some people would not no matter what. Let's just say the people that punch old women with full fists on Black Friday in the mall and that would be enough to kill all the elephants because don't forget we live in a world where "Greed is good".
    Anyway I constantly keep hearing about 3D printers and all the marvels they'll supposedly do like print human organs. So why not ivory? Rhino horn is apparently worth more then it would weight in gold so why not print that?
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 5, 2013
  19. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Regarding bio printing the media hype is far beyond the reality. Whilst 3D printers have potential to ensure accurate spatial deposition of cells that's about it. You can't just stick cells together like Lego and build tissues. They have to form together into larger organised structures and exhibit specific behaviours.

    Again as I said in my 6th post whilst it might not be impossible it's unlikely to be practical. Even if you got the funding and found a way to mass produce ivory I'm a bioreactor there would probably still be poachers because the people now who buy ivory are the people who don't care about the animals harmed. I doubt people like that will choose a synthetic rather than authentic version.
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