Would you eat it?
You've heard of attempts to resurrect extinct animals, but this one might make your stomach turn.
Vow, an Australian cultivated meat company, has cooked up in its lab one of the most exotic and downright bizarre sources of protein your taste buds could ever relish: mammoth meatballs.
And no, "mammoth" isn't a descriptor of its size. We truly mean a meatball made from the flesh of a wooly mammoth — or at least, an approximation of it. If that's turning your head, well, that's the point.
Vow wants to raise awareness of lab grown meat as a tasty and cruelty-free alternative to the real deal, not to mention one that's less environmentally destructive. In this regard, the choice of a mammoth is meant to symbolize the loss of wildlife to humans and climate change. A potent and rousing symbol, if only undermined by the fact that it comes in the form of a weighty meatball.
"We need to start rethinking how we get our food. My biggest hope for this project is... that a lot more people across the world begin to hear about cultured meat," James Ryall, Vow's chief scientific officer, told CNN.
As far as food goes, this is about as Frankenstein of a creation as it gets. First, Vow scientists grabbed the mammoth DNA sequence for myoglobin, a skeletal muscle protein found in mammals, and then filled in the gaps using elephant DNA.
To culture the meat, the scientists inserted the mammoth myoglobin sequence into the stem cells of muscle from a sheep. From there, they let the cells grow for a few weeks and voilà: mammoth meat, approximately.
And for the scientists involved, there's nothing sheepish about using lamb cells. The meatball, they say, is still mostly mammoth.
"From a genomic point of view, it's only one gene amongst all the other sheep genes that is mammoth," Ernst Wolvetang, senior group leader at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, told CNN. "It's one gene out of 25,000."
Not For Human Consumption
If you have your reservations about eating meat from an animal that's supposed to have been dead for thousands for years, you're in good company. Vow scientists don't want to risk eating it either.
"I've got no idea what the potential allergenicity might be of this particular protein," Ryall said. "It's not going to go up for sale, because we've got no idea about the safety profile of this particular product."
But believe it or not, a veritable mammoth meat connoisseur exists, and he says he'd love to take one for the team and give the meatball a taste.
"Without doubt I would love to try this!" Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genomics at Stockholm University who ate a piece of frozen baby mammoth during an expedition in Sibera, told CNN.
While Vow won't be peddling mammoth meat to customers (with the possible exception of Dalen), it does want to get its other products, like cultured quail meat, into restaurants. Singapore is a hopeful target, where lab meat has already been approved for human consumption.
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