As use-by dates go, this meatball is just a few thousand years past its best. That’s because it contains the resurrected flesh of a woolly mammoth — a beast that went extinct some 10,000 years ago.
The prehistoric meatball was made by an Australian cultivated meat company that ultimately wants to mix and match cells from unconventional species to create new kinds of meat.
Scientists took the DNA sequence from a mammoth muscle protein and filled in the gaps with code from an elephant, the species’ closest-living relative.
This sequence was then placed in the myoblast stem cells from a sheep, which replicated to grow 20 billion cells that were in turn used to grow the mammoth meat.
However, despite creating what they hope will be a ‘really tasty’ meat, the experts are too afraid to eat it in case the ancient protein proves deadly.
Unusual: Scientists have grown mammoth flesh in a lab to make a prehistoric meatball (shown)
How it works: Scientists took the DNA sequence from a mammoth muscle protein and filled in the gaps with code from an elephant, the species’ closest-living relative
‘We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,’ said Professor Ernst Wolvetang, who made the meatball with Vow.
HOW DO YOU MAKE MAMMOTH MEATBALLS?
1. Scientists take the DNA sequence for the mammoth muscle protein myoglobin
2. Gaps in the DNA are filled with the code of the mammoth’s close living relative, the African elephant
3. The resulting sequence is then placed into a sheep’s stem cells
4. The stem cells replicate to produce 20 billion copies that can then be used to make mammoth meat and produce a meatball
‘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.’
Professor Wolvetang, of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland, told the Guardian the process was ‘ridiculously easy and fast’ and was completed in a ‘couple of weeks’.
He added that the initial aim was to make dodo meat. However, because the DNA sequences required for this do not currently exist this was not possible.
Vow said it ended up choosing the mammoth ‘because it is a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change’.
It is believed the animal was driven to extinction by human hunting and a warming world after the last Ice Age.
The company’s overarching goal is to demonstrate the potential of meat grown from cells as an alternative to the slaughter of animals and associated global warming linked to large-scale livestock production.
Cultivated meat uses much less land and water than livestock, while also producing no methane emissions.
Scientists say the overall environmental impacts of cultured meat production are likely to be substantially lower than those of conventionally produced meat, despite no direct comparison being possible because cultivated products are not yet being produced on an industrial scale.
Gaps in the DNA are filled with the code of the mammoth’s close living relative, the African elephant
The resulting DNA sequence is placed into a sheep’s stem cells, which replicate to produce 20 billion copies that can then be used to make mammoth meat and produce a meatball
Lab tests: The DNA sequence was placed in the myoblast stem cells from a sheep which replicated to grow 20 billion cells that were in turn used to grow the mammoth meat
One study claimed that cultivated meat involves approximately seven to 45 per cent less energy use than conventionally produced European meat.
Greenhouse gas emissions were also found to be 78–96 per cent lower, while land use was cut by 99 per cent and water use by 82–96 per cent.
Plant-based alternatives to meat are commonly seen on supermarket shelves worldwide, but cultured meat is still a burgeoning area of expertise.
Good Meat’s cultivated chicken, which replicates the taste of the actual meat, is currently only sold to consumers in Singapore.
Lumbering beast: Vow said it ended up choosing the mammoth ‘because it is a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change’
Off the menu: However, despite creating what they hope will be a ‘really tasty’ meat, the experts are too afraid to eat it in case the ancient protein proves deadly
However, two companies – Good Meat and California-based Upside Foods – have now passed an approval process in the US.
George Peppou, CEO of Vow, told the Guardian: ‘The goal is to transition a few billion meat eaters away from eating [conventional] animal protein to eating things that can be produced in electrified systems.
‘And we believe the best way to do that is to invent meat. We look for cells that are easy to grow, really tasty and nutritious, and then mix and match those cells to create really tasty meat.’
The mammoth meatball will be unveiled at Nemo, a science museum in the Netherlands, this evening (Thursday).
WOOLLY MAMMOTHS EXPLAINED: THESE GIANT MAMMALS ROAMED THE EARTH DURING THE PLEISTOCENE 10,000 YEARS AGO
The woolly mammoth roamed the icy tundra of Europe and North America for 140,000 years, disappearing at the end of the Pleistocene period, 10,000 years ago.
They are one of the best understood prehistoric animals known to science because their remains are often not fossilised but frozen and preserved.
Males were around 12 feet (3.5m) tall, while the females were slightly smaller.
Curved tusks were up to 16 feet (5m) long and their underbellies boasted a coat of shaggy hair up to 3 feet (1m) long.
Tiny ears and short tails prevented vital body heat being lost.
Their trunks had ‘two fingers’ at the end to help them pluck grass, twigs and other vegetation.
The Woolly Mammoth is are one of the best understood prehistoric animals known to science because their remains are often not fossilised but frozen and preserved (artist’s impression)
They get their name from the Russian ‘mammut’, or earth mole, as it was believed the animals lived underground and died on contact with light – explaining why they were always found dead and half-buried.
Their bones were once believed to have belonged to extinct races of giants.
Woolly mammoths and modern-day elephants are closely related, sharing 99.4 per cent of their genes.
The two species took separate evolutionary paths six million years ago, at about the same time humans and chimpanzees went their own way.
Woolly mammoths co-existed with early humans, who hunted them for food and used their bones and tusks for making weapons and art.