A meatball has been made from the recreated flesh of the long-extinct woolly mammoth as part of a project to demonstrate the potential of growing flesh
The mammoth snack was produced by an Australian company called Vow which is aiming to uses cells from unconventional species to create new kinds of meat.
Vow’s project doesn’t involve the slaughter of animals and highlights the link between large-scale livestock production and the destruction of wildlife and the climate crisis.
The company has already explored the potential of more than 50 species, including alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo, peacocks and different types of fish.
The initial idea for the mammoth meatball was from Bas Korsten at the creative agency Wunderman Thompson.
Tim Noakesmith, who cofounded Vow, told The Guardian: “We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.”
Woolly mammoths are thought to have become extinction due to hunting by humans and the warming of the world after the last ice age.
Vow worked with Professor Ernst Wolvetang, at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland, to recreate the mammoth muscle protein.
Professor Wolvetang’s team took the DNA sequence for mammoth myoglobin, a key muscle protein which gives meat its flavour, and filled in the gaps using DNA from an elephant.
This sequence was placed in myoblast stem cells from a sheep, which replicated to grow to the 20 billion cells which were used by the company to grow the mammoth meat.
“It was ridiculously easy and fast,” said Professor Wolvetang. “We did this in a couple of weeks.”
The professor said the initial idea was to produce dodo meat but the required DNA sequences didn’t exist.
Despite the work which has gone into it, nobody has yet had the honour of being the first person to eat a mammoth meatball.
“We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” said Professor Wolvetang.
“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.”
The large-scale production of meat causes environmental damage, with many studies the climate crisis will only end if there is a huge reduction in meat-eating in wealthy nations.
George Peppou, the chief executive of Vow, said his company’s plan is to “transition a few billion meat eaters away from eating (conventional) animal protein to eating things that can be produced in electrified systems”.
He added: “And we believe the best way to do that is to invent meat. 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.”
Vow’s first cultivated meat product to be sold to diners will be Japanese quail, which is expected to be in restaurants in Singapore this year.
Plant-based alternatives to meat are common but cultured meat like that produced by Vow replicates the taste of conventional meat.
A chicken product made by Good Meat is currently the only cultivated meat available to diners and can only be bought in Singapore.
However, two companies have now passed an approval process in the US.
In 2018, a company used DNA from an extinct animal to create gummy bears made from gelatine from an extinct elephant-like animal called a mastodon.