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Company creates meatballs from extinct woolly mammoth

A groundbreaking project led by Australian company Vow has successfully created a meatball using the recreated flesh of the long-extinct woolly mammoth, demonstrating the potential of growing flesh from cells without the need for animal slaughter. This project emphasizes the connection between large-scale livestock production and the destruction of wildlife and the ongoing climate crisis.

Vow aims to use cells from unconventional species to develop new types of meat. The company has already explored the potential of over 50 species, including alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo, peacocks, and various fish. Bas Korsten of creative agency Wunderman Thompson initially conceived the idea for the mammoth meatball.

“We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change,” Vox co-founder Tim Noakesmith told The Guardian. Woolly mammoths are believed to have gone extinct due to hunting by humans and the warming of the world after the last ice age.

To recreate the mammoth muscle protein, Vow collaborated with Professor Ernst Wolvetang and his team at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland. They took the DNA sequence for mammoth myoglobin, a key muscle protein that gives meat its flavor, and filled in the gaps using DNA from an elephant. This sequence was then placed in myoblast stem cells from a sheep, which replicated to grow the 20 billion cells used by Vow to create the mammoth meat.

Image Credit: Vow Foods

“It was ridiculously easy and fast,” said Professor Wolvetang. “We did this in a couple of weeks.” The initial plan was to produce dodo meat, but the required DNA sequences did not exist.

Although Vow has managed to create the mammoth meatball, no one has had the chance to taste it yet. Professor Wolvetang explained, “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.”

Large-scale meat production has significant environmental impacts, and many studies suggest that the climate crisis can only be addressed by reducing meat consumption in wealthier nations. 

George Peppou, CEO of Vow, said that his company’s 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. 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 for consumers will be Japanese quail, which is set to be available in Singaporean restaurants this year. While plant-based meat alternatives are common, cultured meat like that produced by Vow replicates the taste of conventional meat. At present, a chicken product made by Good Meat is the only cultivated meat available to diners and can only be purchased in Singapore. However, two companies have recently passed an approval process in the United States.

Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were large, prehistoric elephant-like mammals that lived during the Pleistocene epoch, approximately 4.8 million to 4,000 years ago. They inhabited the cold, northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. Woolly mammoths were well-adapted to their icy environment, with thick layers of fat, long, shaggy hair, and a hump of fat on their backs to help them survive the frigid temperatures.

These herbivorous animals had long, curved tusks that could reach up to 16 feet in length, which they used for foraging, fighting, and digging through snow to reach vegetation. They are believed to have primarily fed on grasses, shrubs, and other plant material.

Woolly mammoths are thought to have gone extinct primarily due to hunting by humans and the warming of the world after the last ice age, which led to habitat loss and changes in vegetation. The extinction of the woolly mammoth is often cited as an example of the impact of human activity and climate change on biodiversity.


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