Giant meatball with woolly mammoth DNA unveiled by cultured meat startup

A giant meatball made from flesh cultivated using the DNA of an extinct woolly mammoth was unveiled on Tuesday at Nemo, a science museum in the Netherlands.

The meatball was created by Australian cultured meat company Vow, which — promising this was not an April Fools’ joke — said it wanted to get people talking about cultured meat, calling it a more sustainable alternative for real meat.

“We wanted to create something that was totally different from anything you can get now,” Vow founder Tim Noakesmith told Reuters. He said that an additional reason for choosing mammoth is that scientists believe that the animal’s extinction was caused by climate change.

The meatball was made of sheep cells inserted with a singular mammoth gene called myoglobin.

“When it comes to meat, myoglobin is responsible for the aroma, the colour and the taste,” James Ryall, Vow’s chief scientific officer, explained.

Just don’t eat it

Since the mammoth’s DNA sequence obtained by Vow had a few gaps, African elephant DNA was inserted to complete it.

“Much like they do in the movie Jurassic Park,” Ryall said, stressing the biggest difference is that they were not creating actual animals.

While creating cultured meat usually means using blood of a dead calf, Vow used an alternative, meaning no animals were killed in the making of the mammoth meatball.

The meatball, which has the aroma of crocodile meat, is currently not for consumption.

“Its protein is literally 4,000 years old. We haven’t seen it in a very long time. That means we want to put it through rigorous tests, something that we would do with any product we bring to the market,” Noakesmith said.

Environmental benefits

Cultivated meat could vastly reduce the environmental impact of global meat production in the future. Currently, billions of acres of land are used for agriculture worldwide.

Seren Kell, science and technology manager at Good Food Institute, a non-profit that promotes plant- and cell-based alternatives to animal products, said he hopes the project “will open up new conversations about cultivated meat’s extraordinary potential.”

“By cultivating beef, pork, chicken and seafood, we can have the most impact in terms of reducing emissions from conventional animal agriculture and satisfying growing global demand for meat while meeting our climate targets,” he said.

Vow hopes to put cultured meat on the map in the European Union, a market where such meat as food is not regulated yet.

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