It's a 'Mammoth Meatball' —in Size and Species

Scientists unveil cultivated meat made with mammoth DNA, but won't eat it
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2023 1:06 PM CDT
It's a 'Mammoth Meatball' —in Size and Species
The "mammoth meatball."   (Vow)

When a single meatball gets its own museum exhibit, you know it's something special. In this case, it's a mammoth meatball—or rather "an approximation of mammoth meat," as CNN reports. The sample wasn't taken from woolly mammoth remains discovered in Arctic permafrost. Instead, the muscle protein was grown in a lab. Scientists used a genome database to identify the DNA sequence for mammoth myoglobin—a protein that gives meat its texture, color, and taste—and after filling in gaps in the sequence with information from the genome of an elephant, "inserted the synthesized gene into a sheep muscle cell, which was then cultured, or grown, in a lab," per CNN.

It was the work of Vow, an Australian cultivated meat company that hopes "to transition a few billion meat eaters away from eating [conventional] animal protein to eating things that can be produced in electrified systems" as a way to combat climate change and environmental destruction and ideally eliminate animal slaughter, CEO George Peppou tells the Guardian. The company has explored the potential of dozens of existing species and hopes to have its version of Japanese quail available on menus in Singapore this year. But first, it decided to embark on what CNN calls "a wonderfully wacky publicity stunt."

The result is 400 grams of mammoth meat—or "lab-made lamb mingled with a tiny amount of mammoth DNA," per CNN. There's just one mammoth gene out of 25,000 sheep genes, as project leader Ernst Wolvetang of the University of Queensland tells the outlet. So what does it taste like? No one knows. Though cultured meat is supposed to replicate the taste of conventional meat, "we were hesitant to immediately try and taste because we're talking about a protein that hasn't existed for 5,000 years," James Ryall, Vow's chief scientific officer, tells CNN. "I've got no idea what the potential allergenicity might be" so it's "not going to go up for sale." Instead, it was being unveiled Tuesday at Amsterdam's NEMO Science Museum, where creators hope to peak diners' interest. (More woolly mammoth stories.)

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