Would you eat a meatball made of lab-grown meat? What if the meat was made from the genetic material of a woolly mammoth? If your answer was yes, the Australian startup Vow has your delectable culinary artifact!

Vow created the cultivated meat using the pachyderm’s cells, so we could potentially being seeing the extinct mammal on our dinner plates someday!

Mammoth Meat

Using publicly available genetic information, the company supplemented the process using genetic material from an African elephant, which is the mammoth’s closest living relative. This material was injected into a sheep cell, the cells multiplied, and they grew large enough to make a giant meatball (between the size of a softball and volleyball).

Also referred to as cultured or cell-based meat, company founder Tim Noakesmith told the Associated Press that it’s an environmentally friendly alternative to animal meat because no livestock is killed in the process. Unfortunately, you cannot order a mammoth meatball just yet. You won’t see any advertisements for “Mammoth meatballs coming soon!”  It is still in the experimental stage, and even its creators haven’t tasted it. But the publicity the mammoth meatball has garnered has gotten people talking.

“We wanted to get people excited about the future of food being different to potentially what we had before,” Noakesmith told AP. “That there are things that are unique and better than the meats that we’re necessarily eating now, and we thought the mammoth would be a conversation starter and get people excited about this new future.”

While no one has tasted the giant meatball, those working on it did smell it, and it had a pleasant aroma. “The folks who were there, they said the aroma was something similar to another prototype that we produced before, which was crocodile,” Noakesmith said. “So, super fascinating to think that adding the protein from an animal that went extinct 4,000 years ago gave it a totally unique and new aroma, something we haven’t smelled as a population for a very long time.”

The Future is… Cultivated Meat?

The mammoth meatball is currently on display at the Nemo Science Museum in Amsterdam.

Although you can’t eat the mammoth meatball, Vow plans on producing cultivated Japanese quail meat for diners later this year. But it will only be available for people living in or visiting Singapore–the only country that allows the sale of cell-based meat for human consumption.

Vow is not the only company that is experimenting with cultivated meat products—there are over 100 globally with the same purpose. And it’s intended to help the environment. Meat production around the world involves the use of billions of acres of land, while the production of cultivated meat products does not require that type of real estate.

Noakesmith pointed out that the woolly mammoth died from climate change and is a symbol of loss. “So, what we wanted to do was see if we could create something that was a symbol of a more exciting future that’s not only better for us, but also better for the planet,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the mammoth meatball project has gotten the thumbs up from the non-profit Good Food Institute, which advocates the use of plant- and cell-based alternatives to animal products. Seren Kell, the company’s science and technology manager, told the AP that cultivated meat can potentially lead to the use of more sustainable foods, and it may reduce climate impact. The mammoth project is unique in that involves an unusual food source, versus traditional livestock such as cattle, pigs, and poultry.

By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com


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