Cultured meat firm resurrects woolly mammoth in lab-grown meatball
Truth, as the saying goes, is often stranger than fiction. The very notion of resurrecting the long-extinct woolly mammoth was the stuff of fantasy not that long ago, but scientists are already working on ways to achieve something close to that, using DNA from soft-tissue in frozen mammoth remains and meshing it with that of a modern-day elephant.
But while such “de-extinction” projects may or may not ultimately succeed, one company is already laying claim to having produced the first meat product made from mammoth DNA.
Vow, an Australian cultivated food company that creates meat in a laboratory setting from animal cells, says that it has used advanced molecular engineering to resurrect the woolly mammoth in meatball form, by combining original mammoth DNA with fragments of an African elephant’s DNA.
James Ryall, Vow’s chief science officer, said that the company first identified the mammoth myoglobin, a protein that is key to giving meat its color and taste, and then used publicly available data to identify the DNA sequence in mammoths.
“We filled in any gaps in the DNA sequence of this mammoth myoglobin gene by using the genome of the African elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative [Editor’s note: It’s actually the Asian elephant that is the mammoth’s closest living relative],” Ryall said in a video announcing the mammoth meatball. “We inserted the mammoth myoglobin gene into our cells using a very low-current and high-voltage charge. Then we continued to grow and multiply these cells just as would occur in a mammoth thousands of years ago. And the amazing thing about this is that not a single animal needed to die to produce the mammoth meatball.”
There’s little question that cultivated meat is coming, evidenced by the countless companies raising vast swaths of venture capital funding to produce meat and fish in a lab from animal cells, as well as the fact that companies are now starting to receive the blessings of regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But while pork sausages and seafood make sense insofar as they are food that people are familiar with, Vow — which closed a $49.2 million round of funding just a few months ago — is clearly upping the ante with its foray into the world of extinct animals.