Cellular agriculture, sustainability, and de-extinction combine to create exotic new food options
Meet the latest Silicon Valley cell-based meat startup taking on a completely novel market: woolly mammoth steaks.
Today, biotech startup Mammuty stunned the food tech industry with its announcement of its $100M Series A round to scale and produce cell-based meats from extinct animals. The company will use its proprietary combination of CRISPR, stem cell engineering, and DNA reconstruction technology to develop and market meat products from animals no longer on our planet — at least in living form.
Leading the investment round is Shanghai’s Rou Mei Capital, which cites China’s growing demand for alternative meats in recent years. China’s developing middle class has a new taste not just for Western style meats but also exotic foods, apparently including mammoth.
“Our team is passionate about extinct species,” said Michael Tusk, founder and CEO of Mammuty. “This project has broad implications for climate change, conservation, and animal suffering, in addition to bringing people around the world exciting, unprecedented food choices.”
Mammuty is based on research conducted by Tusk in the George Church lab at Harvard/MIT (a featured speaker at SynBioBeta 2019), and its early product development ran parallel to the Woolly Mammoth Revival project led by Revive & Restore. In 2017, it quietly began ramping up development and production in its facilities outside Shanghai. The company is based in the cell-based agriculture capital of the world, Emeryville, California.
Mammuty says it’s already inked distribution deals with Costco and another yet-to-be-named frozen food manufacturer. The startup says it will go after the $4 billion US luxury meat market, which is currently dominated by buffalo, alligator, and ostrich.
“Mammoths are the first documented animal to go extinct due to humans hunting and eating them, so we know they are delicious,” said Karl Handelsman, Investment Director at Codon Capital and a co-investor in Mammuty. “They also have incredible nutritional benefits as a foundation of the Paleo diet.”
Mammoth steak is only the first of several planned products for Mammuty. The company is developing a number of dinosaur meats for which preserved DNA has been found. Tusk also hinted at competing with companies like Ecovative, Modern Meadow, and Bolt Threads in producing rugged messenger bags from the cell culture of mammoth skin.
Response to Mammuty’s announcement has been mixed.
The National Beef Association denounced Mammuty’s plans to call its product meat. In a press release, they cautioned consumers to “be wary of special interests trying to influence how we label foods.”
Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, is on record as saying that lab-grown meat from animal cells is one of the stupidest ideas ever expressed. His company produces a plant-based meat alternative that uses heme protein to mimic the taste of animal meat. “We could create a new meat variety today, and call it brontosaurus,” he said. “It would probably taste better than the real thing.” He has also said that VCs need to ask harder questions.
“It is highly irresponsible for these ‘Frankenchefs’ to engineer extinct animals’ cells to produce food for the rich,” said Dina Pierce, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth. “We need to label these GMOs for what they are: Genetically Mammoth Organisms.”
The biggest risk for Mammuty and its investors may not be making the technology work, but rather, what does de-extinct mammoth meat actually taste like?
Tusk speculates that while natural mammoth may have been tough and coarsely grained like elephant meat, Mammuty can incorporate slightly gelatinous, sweet, and marrow components to balance both the flavor and texture.
Tusk said the company is working with celebrity chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Padma Lakshmi, and molecular gastronomists at New York’s renowned Mimikuku restaurant to develop recipes and menus suited to the new meat product. The mammoth could be paired with the equally exotic flavors and fragrances of long-extinct hibiscus, scurfpea, and conebush plants that have recently been resurrected by another synthetic biology unicorn, Ginkgo Bioworks.
With a sky-high valuation like this, only time will tell if Mammuty investors will walk away with the real taste of synthetic biology unicorn in their mouths.
Meet Mammuty and other leading cell-based agriculture companies at SynBioBeta 2019. Register today for 10% off with special discount code DeliciouslyExtinct2