The meatballs are made from regenerated meat from long-extinct woolly mammoths as part of a project to demonstrate the potential of growing meat from cells.
The bulky snack is produced by an Australian company called Vow, which aims to use cells from unconventional species to create new types of meat.
Vow’s project does not involve the slaughter of animals and highlights the link between large-scale livestock production and the destruction of wildlife and the climate crisis.
The company has explored the potential of more than 50 species, including alpacas, buffaloes, crocodiles, kangaroos, peacocks and different types of fish.
Vow co-founder Tim Noakesmith told the Guardian: “We chose the mammoth because it is a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.”
The woolly mammoth is thought to have become extinct due to hunting by humans and the warming of the world after the last ice age.
Vow worked with Professor Ernst Wolvetang from the Australian Institute of Bioengineering at the University of Queensland to recreate the mammoth muscle protein.
Professor Wolvetang’s team took the DNA sequence of mammoth myoglobin, a key muscle protein that imparts flavor to meat, and used elephant DNA to fill in the gaps.
The sequence was placed in a sheep’s myoblast stem cell, which replicated and grew to 20 billion cells, which the company used to grow mammoth meat.
“It’s very simple and fast,” said Professor Wolvetang. “We did it in a matter of weeks.”
The original idea was to produce dodo meat, but the required DNA sequence did not exist, the professor said.
Despite all the hard work, no one has yet been lucky enough to be the first to eat a mammoth meatball.
“We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years,” said Professor Wolvetang.
“So we don’t know how our immune system will respond when we eat it. But if we did it again, we could certainly do it in a way that would be more acceptable to regulators.”
Mass production of meat is environmentally damaging, and according to many studies, the climate crisis will only end if the amount of meat eaten in rich countries is drastically reduced.
Vow’s chief executive, George Peppou, said his company’s plan is to “move billions of meat-eaters away from (traditional) animal protein to food that can be produced in electrified systems”.
He added: “We believe the best way to do this is to invent meat. We look for cells that are easy to grow, really tasty and nutritious, and we mix and match those cells to create really tasty meat.”
Lab-grown meat is ‘the future and the environment’
The first cultured meat product Vow will sell to diners will be Japanese quail, which is expected to hit restaurants in Singapore this year.
Plant-based meat alternatives are common, but ones like those produced by Vow replicate the taste of traditional meat.
A chicken product from Good Meat is currently the only cultured meat available to diners, and it can only be bought in Singapore.
However, two companies have already passed the approval process in the United States.
In 2018, a company used the DNA of an extinct animal to create gummy bears from gelatin from an extinct pictograph called a mastodon.