An Australian company has lifted the bell jar of a meatball made from lab-grown meat using the genetic sequence of the long-extinct pachyderm, saying it was meant to spark public debate about the high-tech treatment.
The launch at an Amsterdam science museum came just days before April 1, so there was an elephant in the room: is this real?
Tim Noakesmith, founder of Australian startup Vow said:
“This is not an April Fool’s Day joke.”
“This is a true innovation.”
Cultured meat, also called cultured or cell-based meat, is made from animal cells. Livestock do not need to be slaughtered to produce it, which advocates say is better not only for the animals but also for the environment.
Vow used publicly available genetic information from the mammoth, filled in the missing parts with genetic data from its closest living relative, the African elephant, and inserted it into a sheep cell, Noakesmith said. Given the right conditions in a laboratory, the cells multiplied until there were enough of them to make the meatball.
More than 100 companies around the world are working on farmed meat products, many of them startups like Vow.
Experts say that if the technology is widely adopted, it could vastly reduce the environmental impact of global meat production in the future. Currently, billions of acres of land are used for agriculture around the world.
But don’t expect this to land on everyone’s plates anytime soon. So far, tiny Singapore is the only country that has approved the consumption of cell-based meat. Vow expects to sell its first product there, a farmed Japanese quail meat, later this year.
The mammoth meatball is unique and has not been tested, even by its creators, nor is it intended to be produced commercially. Instead, it was pitched as a protein source that would get people talking about the future of meat.
“We wanted to get people excited that the future of food is different than what we had before. 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.”
“But also the woolly mammoth has traditionally been a symbol of loss. We now know that he died from climate change. So what we wanted to do was see if we could create something that was symbolic of a more exciting future that is not only better for us, but better for the planet.”
Seren Kell, science and technology manager at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant- and cell-based alternatives to animal products, said she hopes the project “opens up new conversations about the extraordinary potential of cultured meat.” to produce more sustainable food, reduce the climate impact of our existing food system, and free up land for less intensive agricultural practices.”
He said the gigantic project with its unconventional genetic source was an outlier in the new meat farming sector, which commonly focuses on traditional livestock: cattle, pigs and poultry.
“By growing beef, pork, chicken and seafood, we can have the biggest impact in terms of reducing emissions from conventional animal agriculture and meet the growing global demand for meat while meeting our climate goals.”
The giant meatball on display in Amsterdam, about the size of a softball and a volleyball, was for display only and had been glazed to ensure it wouldn’t get damaged on its journey from Sydney.
But when he was preparing, first slow-baked and then finished on the outside with a torch, he smelled good.
“People who were there said the scent was something similar to another prototype we produced before, which was crocodile.”
“So it’s very fascinating to think that adding protein from an animal that went extinct 4,000 years ago gave it a totally unique and new aroma, something we haven’t smelled as a population for a long time.”
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