A mammoth meatball has been created by a cultivated meat company, resurrecting the flesh of the extinct animals.
The project aims to demonstrate the potential of meat grown from cells and to highlight wildlife destruction and climate change.
The mammoth meatball was produced by Vow Food, an Australian company, which is taking a different approach to cultured meat.
There are scores of companies working on replacements for meat, but Vow Foods is aiming to mix and match cells from unconventional species to create new kinds of meat.
The company has already investigated the potential of more than 50 species, including alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo, peacocks and fish.
The first cultivated meat to be sold to diners is Japanese quail, which the company expects will be in restaurants in Singapore this year.
“We have a behavior change problem when it comes to meat consumption,” Vow Food chief executive officer George Peppou said. “The goal is to transition a few billion meat eaters away from eating [conventional] animal protein to eating things that can be produced in electrified systems.”
“And we believe the best way to do that is to invent meat,” Peppou said. “We look for cells that are easy to grow, really tasty and nutritious, and then mix and match those cells to create really tasty meat.”
“We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change,” said Tim Noakesmith, who cofounded Vow Food with Peppou.
The initial idea was from Bas Korsten at creative agency Wunderman Thompson.
“Our aim is to start a conversation about how we eat and what the future alternatives can look and taste like,” Thompson said. “Cultured meat is meat, but not as we know it.”
Plant-based alternatives to meat are now common but cultured meat replicates the taste of conventional meat. Cultivated meat — chicken from Good Meat — is currently only sold to consumers in Singapore, but two companies have passed an approval process in the US.
In 2018, another company used DNA from an extinct animal to create gummy bears made from gelatin from a mastodon, another elephant-like animal.
Vow Food worked with Ernst Wolvetang, a professor at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland, to create the mammoth muscle protein.
Wolvetang’s team took the DNA sequence for mammoth myoglobin, a key muscle protein in giving meat its flavor, and filled in the gaps using elephant DNA.
This sequence was placed in myoblast stem cells from a sheep, which replicated to grow to the 20 billion cells used by the company to grow the mammoth meat.
“It was ridiculously easy and fast,” Wolvetang said. “We did this in a couple of weeks.”
Initially, the idea was to produce dodo meat, but the DNA sequences needed do not exist, he said.
No one has yet tasted the mammoth meatball.
“We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” Wolvetang said. “So we have no idea how our immune system would react when we eat it, but if we did it again, we could certainly do it in a way that would make it more palatable to regulatory bodies.”
Wolvetang said that he could understand people initially being wary of such products.
“It’s a little bit strange and new — it’s always like that at first, but from an environmental and ethical point of view, I personally think [cultivated meat] makes a lot of sense,” he said.
The mammoth meatball was to be unveiled yesterday at Nemo, a science museum in the Netherlands.
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