Shellfish, cattle, chicken, tuna, pork and even foie gras, salmon or kangaroo… The variety of cultivated meat is increasing, but until none of them was from an extinct animal. This week a type of meat that humans have not eaten for at least 3,700 years: mammoth meat.
The project, carried out by scientists from the Australian company Vow, aims to demonstrate the potential of meat grown from cells, without culling animals, and highlight the link between large-scale livestock production and the destruction of wildlife and the climate crisis. And put on paper the responsibility of humans in the extinction of species.
The company has already investigated the potential of more than 50 species, including alpacas, buffalo, crocodiles, kangaroos, peacocks and different types of fish. In fact, it already has authorization from the Singapore authorities to serve its first cultivated meat in restaurants in the country: Japanese quail.
Cultured meat, also known as artificial or in vitro meat, is animal meat (including shellfish and offal) that is produced by direct culture of animal cells. This production method Eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultured meat is made of the same types of cells arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, reproducing the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat. But doing it with a mammoth is a very different thing.
The technology behind the production began at the Australian Institute of Bioengineering at the University of Queensland. The team led by Ernst Wolvetang obtained a sequence of Mammoth myoglobin DNA, a key muscle protein for flavoring meatand filled in the few gaps with elephant DNA.
This sequence was placed into myoblast stem cells (muscle fiber precursor cells) from a sheep, which replicated to grow into the 20 billion cells that the company later used to grow mammoth meat.
“It was ridiculously easy and fast,” Wolvetang explains. We did this in a couple of weeks. Initially, the idea was to produce dodo meat, he said, but the necessary DNA sequences do not exist. We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years, so we have no idea how our immune systems would react when we eat it. But if we were to do it again, we could certainly do it in a way that would make it more palatable to regulatory bodies.”
Farmed meat uses much less land and water than livestock and produces no methane emissions. Most of the 60 companies engaged in cultured meat research use energy from renewable sources, although some use fetal bovine serum, a growth medium produced from fetal cattle. In Vow there is a “library” with cells from dozens of animals that are easy to grow, taste good and are nutritious. They are then blended together to create the most flavorful meat possible.
“We chose the woolly mammoth – explain those responsible – because it is a symbol of loss of diversity and a symbol of climate change. Our goal is to start a conversation about how we eat and what future alternatives will look and taste like. Cultured meat is meat, but not as we know it.”
According to Seren Kell, from the Good Food Institute Europe (a non-profit organization that brings together the dozens of companies in the sector) concludes: “I hope this fascinating project opens new conversations about the extraordinary potential of cultured meat to produce food more sustainable. However, since the most common sources of meat are farmed animals such as beef, pigs and poultry, most of the sustainable protein sector is focuses on realistically reproducing the meat of these species. By growing beef, pork, chicken and seafood, we can have the biggest impact in terms of reducing emissions from conventional animal agriculture.”
The mammoth meatball will be featured tonight at Nemo, a science museum in the Netherlands.