First a €250,000 stem-cell burger – next a mammoth?

The development of some form of mammoth creature or hybrid might be possible in the longer term

Earlier this week a lab-grown “cultured” beef burger was cooked and eaten at a press conference in London. The proof-of-concept patty, which reportedly cost a whopping €250,000 to develop this far, originated from stem cells taken from cow tissue.

Dr Mark Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands led the team that encouraged the stem cells to grow muscle fibres in culture, and the resulting tissue was used to make a burger. The verdict from tasters? Getting there, but it needed more fat.

“Growing” a burger from a small piece of cow is one thing, but how about using stem-cell technology to revisit the extinct mammoth?

Writing online for the Conversation UK ( last week, Prof Ian Wilmut, emeritus professor at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, states that "it is unlikely that a mammoth could be cloned in the way we created Dolly the sheep, as has been proposed following the discovery of mammoth bones in northern Siberia".


Instead he raises the alternative notion of using viable mammoth cells – if they could be found – to produce stem cells that could be grown in the lab. This would open up opportunities to compare mammoth and elephant cells.

“It would enable us to begin to answer ground-breaking questions,” writes Wilmut. “What are the differences between the cells and tissues of these species? What are the similarities? The mammoth lived in a different climate, so was the metabolism of their cells different? Does this information cast any light on the cause of extinction of mammoths?”

And looking to the horizon, he writes that “ . . . the development of some form of mammoth creature or hybrid might be possible in the longer term, the research of which could lead to major biological discoveries and advances.”

Claire O'Connell

Claire O'Connell

Claire O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times who writes about health, science and innovation