A company made a volleyball-sized meatball with mammoth DNA, but no one tasted it because humans could be allergic to the 5,000-year-old protein

  • An Australian cultured meat firm made a giant meatball with mammoth DNA and lab-made lamb.

  • No one tasted the meatball out of concerns about potential allergies to the 5,000-year-old protein.

  • The meatball is "a striking statement" to raise awareness of meat alternatives, the firm said.

Chicken, fish, or mammoth? Vow, an Australian cultured meat startup, has engineered a giant meatball made with a surprising protein: woolly mammoth DNA. But no one has tasted it because humans could be allergic to the 5,000-year-old protein.

The meatball was made from lab-grown sheep cells, injected with a myoglobin gene from the extinct woolly mammoth, according to Vow.

"When it comes to meat, myoglobin is responsible for the aroma, the color, and the taste," James Ryall, Vow's chief scientific officer, told Reuters.

But the meatball myoglobin isn't pure mammoth, because the DNA sequence wasn't complete enough on its own. The company had to fill in gaps in the mammoth's DNA sequence using fragments of African elephant DNA, a close relative to the mammoth, according to Vow.

The resulting giant meatball is intended to make a statement about the food industry, rather than a new menu item. You can look, but you can't eat it.

Lab-grown meat is far from your dinner plate

black gloved hand holds glass display over giant meatball on white table
Vow presents the mammoth meatball at NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

The meatball "aims to challenge the public and the meat industry to think differently about how we produce and consume food — highlighting cultured meat as a viable alternative to traditional animal agriculture," Vow said in a press release.

Lab-grown meat — or "cultured" or "cultivated" meat, as the industry calls it — could be more ecologically sustainable than farmed meat from live animals.

Food systems produce 37% of the greenhouse-gas emissions that are warming the planet and driving catastrophic climate change. Startups like Vow argue that growing animal cells in giant steel vats, like a brewery, would use less land, water, and energy. That would allow consumers to continue eating meat without the ecological and animal-rights consequences.

But the industry is in its early stages. Singapore is the only country where lab-grown meat can legally be sold to consumers.

The US is probably next. In November, the US Food and Drug Administration concluded that lab-grown chicken from the California-based company Upside Foods was safe for consumption. The chicken still needs approval from the US Department of Agriculture before it can appear in restaurants or grocery stores.

Vow said it was working toward regulatory approval for its (non-mammoth) cultured meat in the US, Australia, and Singapore.

Humans haven't eaten mammoth in thousands of years — it could be too risky

woman stands in front of museum mammoth skeleton between tusks
A visitor looks at a complete mammoth skeleton in Lyon, France.Emmanuel Foudrot/Reuters

There's another reason why no one's dug a fork into the mammoth meatball entree. It's unclear if humans can stomach mammoth meat.

"Normally, we would taste our products and play around with them. But we were hesitant to immediately try and taste because we're talking about a protein that hasn't existed for 5,000 years. I've got no idea what the potential allergenicity might be of this particular protein," Ryall told CNN.

There is evidence that ancient humans consumed mammoth meat, and that they also used clever preservation methods — including submerging the meat in cold water — due to the sheer quantity of meat that could be harvested from the animal, according to the book "Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food" by Lenore Newman.

Research suggests that mammoths went extinct partially due to climate change.

At least one modern human has tasted mammoth meat, though, according to CNN. Love Dalén, a professor at Stockholm University's Centre for Paleogenetics, sequenced the world's oldest mammoth DNA and says he tried a small piece of frozen meat from the preserved carcass of a baby mammoth.

baby mammoth mummified frozen carcass lies on a white table
The carcass of a baby mammoth lies in a museum in the Arctic city of Salekhard, in Russia.Sergei Cherkashin/Reuters

"Without doubt I would love to try this [meatball]" he told CNN. "It cannot possibly taste worse than real mammoth meat."

The meatball was revealed on Tuesday and will join the collection at a Netherlands science and medicine museum.

This post has been updated. It was originally published on March 29, 2023.

Read the original article on Business Insider