This Tuesday (28), scientists presented in Amsterdam a meatball made from laboratory-grown meat of the woolly mammoth, an extinct species, and said that this “journey” into the past paves the way for the food of the future.
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The delicacy from Australian meat company Vow is on display under a glass dome at the NEMO Science Museum in the Dutch capital.
But this snake meat is not yet ready for consumption: the millennia-old protein must undergo safety tests before modern humans can eat it.
“We chose woolly mammoth meat because it is a symbol of loss, extinguished by climate change in the past,” Tim Noakesmith, co-founder of Vow, told AFP.
“We face a similar fate if we don’t do things differently, such as massively changing agricultural practices and the way we eat,” he added.
Grown for several weeks, the meatball was made by scientists who had previously sequenced the DNA of mammoth myoglobin, the protein that gives meat its flavor.
With some gaps left, the DNA sequence was completed with genes from the African elephant, the closest living relative of the ancestral snake, inserted into pregnancy cells with the help of an electrical discharge.
“I wouldn’t take it yet because we haven’t seen this protein in 4,000 years,” said Ernst Wolfitang of the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute of Bioengineering, who collaborated with Vow.
He added, “However, after the safety tests, I’d be really curious to see what that would look like.”
Global meat consumption has nearly doubled since the early 1960s, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
According to this entity, livestock accounts for 14.5% of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
With a prediction that this consumption will continue to increase by 70% by 2050, scientists are looking at alternatives such as plant-based or lab-grown meat.
Noakesmith, who self-identifies as a “frustrated vegetarian”, said Sydney-based Vow did not want to stop people from eating meat, but was “offering something better”.
“We chose to make a giant meatball to draw attention to the fact that the future of food can be better and more sustainable,” he concluded.
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