Thank goodness, big balls of mammoth: an Australian startup created cultured meat from the DNA of an extinct animal

Vow Foods, a Sydney-based cultured meat start-up, has developed the world’s first edible protein engineered from the DNA of an extinct animal: the woolly mammoth.

Pitching their technology as a solution to climate change – and using the mammoth as “a monumental symbol of what we now have to lose” – Vow unveiled its latest experiment with cultured meat (meat grown from animal cells) in Amsterdam on Tuesday evening, at the Food Futurism conference.

The meat was produced using molecular engineering that involved infusing cells with real mammoth DNA, with gaps in the sequence filled in by DNA from the African elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative.

The Western Sydney-based startup began producing lab-grown meat from pig and kangaroo cells in 2019. Since then it has produced meat from a range of animal cells, including rabbits, mice, goats and water buffaloes, and even alpaca. It has been studied how more than 50 types of lab-grown meats are put on plates, including fish.

Vow is backed by Australia’s leading venture capital funds, including Blackbird and Square Peg, and Grok, Mike Cannon-Brookes’ family fund. It raised $7.7 million in a seed round in January 2021, then a record $73.5 million Series A in November last year.

Vow’s lab-grown mammoth meatball. Photo: Aico Lind.

The concept for a giant meatball brought a theatricality worthy of PT Barnum to the science and story of Vow and was developed by Bas Korsten, chief creative officer at advertising agency Wunderman Thompson. Korsten was responsible for the 2016 project The Next Rembrandt, a 3D-printed painting with artificial intelligence that was produced after the AI ​​searched the entire work of the Dutch Renaissance painter.

A smooth one video urging regulators to keep up with the evolving technology that Vow is pioneering was released as part of the giant meatball project, arguing that the startup has the solution to climate change. It ends with the tagline “Let’s eat our way out of extinction”.

Vow co-founder Tim Noakesmith says in the video that “we want to change everyone’s conception of what meat is,” adding that the company’s ambition is to “feed billions of people.”

“Cultured meat significantly reduces climate change impacts normally associated with mainstream meat production,” he said.

“The world needs cultured meat now.”

Singapore is the only country in the world where cultured meat is legal for human consumption. Vow plans to serve farmed quail meat in a concept restaurant called Morsel is currently offering sign ups to try a “first dish in the world”.

Noakesmith argues that cultured meat can be engineered for both taste and nutritional value over normal meat, in addition to environmental benefits.

The startup enlisted University of Queensland professor Ernst Wolvetang at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering to develop the mammoth meat, using myoblastic stem cells from sheep to make things replicate.

The Mauritian dodo was the original plan, but that idea was thwarted by the fact that its DNA sequence does not exist, even though it is regularly talked about bringing the flightless bird back to life 370 years after humans wiped it out.

It’s probably for the best, as the dodo is often used as an example of technology’s triumph over those who don’t adapt quickly enough.

a 2021 paper prepared by London think tank Chatham House argued that the production of food is the main driver of biodiversity loss worldwide.

In a world where so many animals are currently threatened with extinction, not out of a desperate need for their meat, but because they are a cult craving, a superstitious drug, a valuable by-product, or simply being wiped out by land clearing to put things in order. to grow crops (including legumes for vegetable “meat”?) and livestock, as well as development for growing populations, the challenge for Vow and its investors is whether it should produce protein that everyone can afford, or cater to the thrill and high profit margins from eating lab-grown meat that is not only the product of dead animals, but even extinct animals.

Tassie tiger snags, anyone?

Here’s the giant meatball video:

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