A woolly mammoth meatball? Scientists grew cultured meat with extinct animal DNA

A cell-based meat company resurrected the extinct woolly mammoth – in the form of a lab-grown meatball.

The woolly mammoth was chosen by Vow because the extinct mammal is a symbol of loss and climate change, a video released by the company explains.

The product was unveiled Tuesday at Nemo, a science museum in the Netherlands. The “iconic” meatball was chosen because of its popularity worldwide “for centuries,” Vow said.

“It is an accessible dish, simple to make and affordable,” their website says. “Exactly what we hope to achieve for cultured meat products in the future.”

George Peppou, co-founder and CEO of Vow, wrote in a 2021 article that the food tech startup believes animals domesticated by our ancestors “aren’t the best possible meat we can produce with new technologies.”


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According to the Guardian, Vow has used DNA from 50 animal species so far, including a variety of fish, alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo and peacocks, with energy from renewable sources.

Another goal, Vow co-founder Tim Noakesmith said, is to transition billions of meat eaters away from traditional animal proteins to eating “cultured” cell-grown meat that's flavorful and nutritious.

How was wooly mammoth meat made?

Scientists used a key protein that gives red meat its taste, mammoth myoglobin, along with the DNA of the woolly mammoth’s closest living relative, an African elephant, to fill in missing sequences and create the mammoth muscle protein, according to researchers at Vow and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering at the University of Queensland.

An Australian-based experimental food company announced its latest product: a meatball made of woolly mammoth protein.
An Australian-based experimental food company announced its latest product: a meatball made of woolly mammoth protein.

In collaboration with the creative agency Wunderman Thompson, Vow took the elephant and mammoth DNA sequences and placed them in stem cells from a sheep to replicate the cells used to grow “the world's first meat made out of the extinct woolly mammoth.”

More than 20 billion cells were used to create each meatball.

Can you eat it?

The mammoth meatball is not ready for consumption, and no one has tasted it – yet, according to the company’s website.

“Since we are dealing with an extinct protein, it will take some time before we can guarantee that Mammoth meat is safe and healthy,” the website says.

Cultured meat products can be purchased and consumed only in Singapore, the first country to approve cultured meat for commercial sale in 2020.

Worldwide, legislation bans cultured meat products from being sold in supermarkets or restaurants, according to Vow.

This year, diners in Singapore will have the opportunity to try the first cultivated meat sold in restaurants: a Japanese quail.

More coverage from USA TODAY

Camille Fine is a trending visual producer on USA TODAY's NOW team. 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mammoth meatball? Cultured meat made with extinct animal DNA