It has been seven years since Bas Korsten worked on the Next Rembrandt, a project that used artificial intelligence to analyse Rembrandt’s genius and recreate a new 3D painting based on it. The Next Rembrandt arrived at a time when AI technology was still a fairly nebulous concept, and the same challenge of crystallising unfamiliar ideas can be seen in his latest project: a meatball made out of ‘mammoth’ meat. Mammoths have, of course, been extinct for thousands of years, so the meatball is derived from lab-cultured meat based on the DNA of woolly mammoths, along with supplementary DNA belonging to the African elephant, a close relative of the mammoth.
Korsten, who is global CCO at Wunderman Thompson, explains that the groundwork for the Mammoth Meatball was laid by a handful of organisations. For instance, the Dutch company Mosa Meat – whose co-founder Mark Post introduced the world’s first cultured hamburger ten years ago – as well as the US genetic rescue organisation Revive and Restore. By combining the DNA of an extinct creature and cultured meat production, Korsten wanted to know: “Could we then create meat of extinct species?”
Fascinated by this question, Korsten connected with Tim Noakesmith, one of the founders of Australian cultured meat start-up Vow, which tends to look beyond what Korsten calls the “big three” – beef, pork, and chicken – to consider other varieties of cultured meat. “I was instantly drawn to the idea of zebra steak, or Galapagos turtle burger, or giraffe porkchops, just as a creative mind,” Korsten says. These options may have piqued Korsten’s interest, but they’re arguably not as accessible to new audiences as, say, a chicken burger, and a mammoth meatball hardly seems like a safe option either. If people already struggle with the idea of cultured meat, is a meatball based on a long extinct animal the best recipe to win over the general public?