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Food startup grows meatball out of woolly mammoth

Food startup grows meatball out woolly mammoth
Posted at 5:15 AM, Mar 30, 2023

Woolly mammoths, which roamed the Earth during the Ice Age, are long extinct. But remains found in Arctic permafrost have helped scientists sequence their genome and learn fascinating facts about these gigantic creatures.

Now, a food startup has found a surprising use for mammoth DNA. During a media event on Tuesday, an Australian cultured meat company called Vow unveiled a meatball consisting of lab-grown mammoth meat at a science museum in the Netherlands.

In the typical process of making cultured meat, cells are extracted from a living animal, after which they are grown into meat within a lab by “immersing them in nutrients.” Since the project team did not have access to preserved mammoth tissue, they identified the mammoth version of the protein myoglobin, which gives meat its texture, flavor and color, from the publicly available genome database.

They used the genome of an African elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative, for additional information. Then, they inserted the synthesized gene into a sheep muscle cell. The mammoth gene was “overexpressed” to make it more prevalent than the sheep’s gene in the final product, which was eventually cultivated into around 400 grams of meat.

Vow shared the news on Twitter.

“We’re starting a conversation on what the future of food looks like (and from our view, it’s pretty exciting),” the company tweeted.

The team has yet to taste the lab-grown meat. They are hesitant to do so because these proteins have not existed for over 5,000 years, and they may pose a potential allergenic risk.

The project is intended to highlight the potential of cultured meat to make eating habits more planet-friendly.

“We wanted to get people excited about the future of food being different to potentially what we had before,” Tim Noakesmith, founder of the startup, 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.”

Currently, Vow is waiting to get regulatory approval from Singapore, the first country to approve cultured meat, to sell lab-grown quail meat it has developed. In the U.S., the FDA has approved lab-grown chicken for human consumption.

This story originally appeared on Simplemost. Check out Simplemost for additional stories.