Australian firm Vow has produced a meatball made out of cells from the woolly mammoth, which went extinct thousands of years ago. The demonstration, which makes use of cells from unconvential animals to grow meat instead of conventional livestock, shows Vow’s commitment to battling the environmental destruction caused by the meat industry. Previously, the company has experimented with cells from over 50 species including alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo, peacocks and many fish. The creation of the mammoth meatball came at the suggestion of Bas Korsten from the creative agency Wunderman Thompson, with Tim Noakesmith, Vow’s co-founder explaining, ” We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.”
The meatball was produced through a two week process overseen by Professor Ernst Wolvetang at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland. In it, the professor and his team took the DNA sequence for mammoth myoglobin, an essential muscle protein, and filled in the gaps with DNA from elephants. The sequence was placed in myoblast stem cells from a sheep, which grew to create the billions of cells necessary for the finished product.
The chief executive of Vow, George Peppou, explained that the company hopes to “transition a few billion meat eaters away from eating (conventional) animal protein to eating things that can be produced in electrified systems,” noting that their strategy relies upon making tastier, more nutritious meat than can be found in plant-based alternatives. Vow’s first product, set to launch in Singapore soon, is a Japanese quail, while Good Meat’s chicken is also available in Singapore and US authorities have given approval to two other companies producing lab-grown meat. The success of these products will be vital to reducing meat-related environmental damage.
However, despite the scientific leaps made in growing meat from cells, there are still questions about its safety. It’s unclear what would happen to an individual’s immune system on eating meat which hasn’t been present for thousands of years, which is why Vow didn’t aim for mammoth meat which would be sold as food. Professor Wolvetang commented, “We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years. 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.”