An Australian startup has created a truly mammoth meatball.
Last Tuesday, Vow Foods introduced a giant meatball made from the flesh of the extinct Woolly Mammoth. The meatball was ceremoniously unveiled at Nemo, a science museum in the Netherlands.
— Reuters Science News (@ReutersScience) March 29, 2023
“This is not an April Fool’s joke,” said Tim Noakesmith, founder of Australian startup Vow. “This is a real innovation.”
The meatball is made of sheep cells inserted with a mammoth gene called myoglobin, with some African Elephant mixed in for good measure.
Vow’s Chief Scientific Officer James Ryall told Reuters that the process of creating the mammoth meatball was “much like they do in the movie Jurassic Park.”
The only difference is that his lab didn’t create an actual 13,200-pound animal.
Making a mammoth statement
But don’t expect to throw the mammoth meatball in a plate of pasta anytime soon. It’s not for eating.
“We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” said Ernst Wolvetang of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland, who helped create the mammoth muscle protein. “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.”
The meatball’s big debut was more of a publicity stunt designed to showcase the potential of meat grown from cells without killing animals. Vow Foods also wanted to highlight the link between livestock production and climate change.
“We wanted to get people excited about the future of food being different to potentially what we had before,” Vow founder Tim Noakesmith told the Associated Press. “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 Vow’s mammoth meatballs are not edible (at least not yet), most cell-based or “cultivated meat” is meant for human consumption as an alternative to conventional animals and plant-based meat.
Last year, the FDA approved meat made from cultured chicken cells.
And Vow is experimenting with more than 50 species, including buffalo, crocodile, and kangaroo.
Vow’s first lab-grown meat to be sold to the public will be Japanese quail, according to The Guardian.