Australian Company Unveils Lab-Grown Meatball Made From Woolly Mammoth
A trio of woolly mammoths trudges over snow covered hills. Behind them, mountains with snow covered peaks rise above dark green forests of fir trees. 3D Rendering
(Daniel Eskridge/Getty Images)

A producer of lab-grown meat unveiled an ancient appetizer that’s perfect for your Paleo diet.

An Australian synthetic meat producer called Vow unveiled a meatball made from the genetic material of the woolly mammoth on Tuesday. The meatball was created using proteins synthesized from the mammoth genome, and is part of the company’s mission to fight climate change using lab-grown meat. The company will unveil the creation at the NEMO science museum in Amsterdam Tuesday evening.

The mammoth meatball was created with the help of Ernst Wolvetang, a researcher at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland. Wolvetang synthesized mammoth muscle tissue using a DNA sequence for myoglobin, the protein responsible for the pigment and flavor of red meat. He then filled in a few gaps in the genetic material using DNA from the African elephant, a close relative of mammoths. The DNA was then implanted in myoblasts — the precursors to muscle cells— from a sheep. It was then replicated into about 20 billion cells, enough to produce 400 grams of mammoth meat.

“It was ridiculously easy and fast,” Wolvetang told The Guardian. “We did this in a couple of weeks.” Wolvetang added that the original goal of the project was to create a chicken nugget out of meat from the Dodo bird, but the necessary DNA sequences do not exist.

But nobody has tasted the mammoth meatball, and it’s very likely that nobody will. “We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” Wolvetang said. “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.”

Wolvetang said he could understand people initially being wary of such meat: “It’s a little bit strange and new – it’s always like that at first. But from an environmental and ethical point of view, I personally think [cultivated meat] makes a lot of sense.”

The company chose the mammoth specifically to push a message of the dangers of climate change. “We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.” Vow co-founder Tim Noakesmith told The Guardian. Woolly mammoths died out at the end of the last Ice Age; it is not entirely known whether hunting by humans or habitat loss contributed to their extinction.

Lab-grown meat is also moving forward with regulatory approval in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed its first pre-market consultation for a human food made from cultured animal cells in November, according to a press release. The FDA reviewed a synthetic chicken product made by Upside Foods, and said that it had “no further questions” about it. But the product still needs to be approved by the USDA.


The mammoth meatball is not the only fossilized fare synthesized from the prehistoric DNA. In 2018, a company called Geltor used DNA from a mastodon, a distant relative of the woolly mammoth, to create gelatine from collagen proteins. That gelatine was then used to create elephant-shaped gummy candies.

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