You might be a fan of chicken nuggets or tasty Swedish meatballs, but how do you feel about eating the meat of an extinct animal? If you’ve always wondered what a woolly mammoth might taste like, then you’re in luck: this week, a team at the Nemo Science Museum in Amsterdam unveiled a giant meatball made out of cultured mammoth meat.
Dutch science museum makes international headlines
April Fools’ Day might be right around the corner, but this is no joke – it’s science. Around the world, scientists are working to create meat using the DNA from various animals – including those that have gone extinct.
The technology behind these kinds of foods, known as cultured or cultivated meat, works by using the DNA sequence and cells of different animals in order to create meat without having to slaughter any animals.
While this technology isn’t quite as prominent in Europe as it is elsewhere, the Netherlands made international headlines this week after a Dutch museum played host to the unveiling of a rather unusual food item: a mammoth meatball.
DNA of extinct animal used to create giant meatball
The meatball was a collaboration between Vow, an Australian start-up company that specialises in cultured meat, and a team of professors from the university in Queensland. Vow’s mission is to raise awareness of the possibilities offered by cultured meat, and has so far focused its efforts on more unconventional species, such as peacocks, alpacas, and crocodiles.
Researchers were able to replicate mammoth meat by using sheep cells, which Reuters reports were inserted with a mammoth gene called myoglobin, which is responsible for the aroma, colour and taste of meat. Any gaps in the mammoth’s DNA sequence were filled in using the DNA of the African elephant.
“It was ridiculously easy and fast,” Queensland professor Ernst Wolvetang told The Guardian. “We did this in a couple of weeks.” Normally, cultured meat is created using the blood from a dead calf, but the technology used for this meatball means no animals were killed in the process.
Mammoth meatball might be real – but it isn’t safe to eat
With this project, Vow co-founder Tim Noakesmith told Reuters they “wanted to create something that was totally different from anything you can get now,” while also opening up the conversation about more sustainable meat production in the future. Noakesmith explained that mammoth meat was chosen as the animal is “a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.”
While ultimately Vow hopes that cultured meat will be used as an alternative to “real” meat in Europe in the future – cultivated chicken meat is already on sale in Singapore – the giant mammoth meatball is certainly not edible. “We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” said Wolvetang. “So we have no idea how our immune system would react when we eat it.”
Thumb: ColorMaker via Shutterstock.com.