Throwing another giant at Barbie? An Australian company on Tuesday raised the glass lid on a meatball made from meat grown in a lab using the genetic sequence of the long-extinct Pachyderm snake, saying it was meant to spark public debate about the high-tech treatment.
The launch at Amsterdam’s Science Museum came just days before April 1st, so there was an elephant in the room: is this real?
“This is not an April Fool’s joke,” said Tim Noakesmith, founder of Australian startup Vow. “This is a real innovation.”
Cultured meat — also called cultured or cell-based meat — is made from animal cells. Cattle do not have to be killed to produce them, which advocates say is better not only for the animals but also for the environment.
Nipper used publicly available genetic information from mammoths, filled in the missing fragments with genetic data from its closest living relative, the African elephant, and inserted it into a sheep cell, Noakesmith said. Under the right conditions in the lab, the cells multiplied until there were enough to roll into meatballs.
More than 100 companies around the world are working on cultured meat products, many of them startups like Vow.
Experts say that if the technology is widely adopted, it could significantly reduce the environmental impact of global meat production in the future. Currently, billions of acres of land are used for agriculture all over the world.
But don’t expect this to land on boards around the world anytime soon. So far, tiny Singapore is the only country that has approved the consumption of cell-based meat. Vow hopes to sell its first product there — Japanese-farmed quail meat — later this year.
Giant Meatball is a one-off game that has not been tasted, even by its creators, and is not planned to be put into commercial production. Instead, it was presented as a source of protein that would get people talking about the future of meat.
“We wanted to get people excited that the future of food is different than what we’ve had before. And that there are things that are unique and better than meat that we necessarily eat now, and we thought mammoths would be the conversation starter and get people excited about this new future,” Noakesmith told the Associated Press.
“But also the woolly mammoth has traditionally been a symbol of loss. We now know that it has died out due to climate change. And so what we wanted to do was see if we could create something that was a symbol of a more exciting future that is not only better for us, but better for our planet as well.”
Serene Keel, director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant-based and cellular alternatives to animal products, said he hopes the project will open “new conversations about the extraordinary potential of grown meat to produce more sustainable food, and to reduce the climate impact on our current food system.” and freeing up land for less intensive farming practices.”
He said the mammoth project, with its unconventional genetic source, was outside the new meat farming sector, which generally focuses on traditional livestock — cows, pigs and poultry.
“By growing beef, pork, chicken and seafood, we can have the greatest impact in terms of reducing emissions from traditional animal farming and meeting the growing global demand for meat while meeting our climate goals,” he said.
The huge meatball on display in Amsterdam – about the size of a softball and a volleyball – was for show only and was glazed to ensure it did not get damaged during its flight from Sydney.
But when it was being prepared—first baked slowly and then finished on the outside with a torch—it smelled good.
“People who’ve been there, they said it smells like another prototype we’ve produced before, which is an alligator,” Noakesmith said. “So it’s very cool to think that adding protein from an animal that went extinct 4,000 years ago gave it a completely new and unique scent, something we as a group haven’t smelled in a very long time.”
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