John O’Shea, a British artist currently in residence at Liverpool University’s Clinical Engineering department, has designed a fairly stomach-churning soccer ball: he plans to bioengineer a pig’s bladder to recreate the standard sporting item as it was assembled in centuries past. If the project seems shocking, there’s a strong chance that’s what O’Shea is aiming for. He intends for the project to reference the “colliding worlds of human enhancement, the bio-technology industry and the global capitalization of sport, which have become highly contested areas.”
The science behind O’Shea’s “Pig’s Bladder Football” is far more advanced than the work that one might typically associate with that of a provocative artist. In a press release O’Shea explains that “In collaboration with Professor John Hunt and PhD Scholar Theun Van Veen,” he has “been working on his own bespoke protocols for harvesting living animal cells from abattoir waste through biological experimentation, rapid prototyping and an iterative design process.”
And it’s precisely these types of processes which have been the cause of controversy. O’Shea drew his inspiration—in part—from what was considered to be a scientific milestone in 2006, when a laboratory-grown bladder became the first organ of its kind to be successfully transplanted into a human body. In these instances the cultivated cells were taken from the same specific individuals who later received the transplants.
O’Shea has fairly extensive documentation of his scientific process on his blog, right down to an explanation of the 3D printed forms that the bladder cells will grow over in order to form a recognizable football. In order to remain loyal to the medical engineering aspects of the project, he is using polylactic acid, which he explains is a “corn derived polymer which biodegrades over a long enough period of time… 3D printed polymers used for the growth of artificial organs are actually broken down within the body, leaving behind only the artificial organic form.”
Community workshops held by O’Shea seem to have drawn more curiosity from those interested in the age-old technique of producing pigs’ bladder footballs, than from those curious as to the source of the animal parts themselves. The first workshop culminated in O’Shea hosting what he claims to be the first pig’s bladder football game of the 21th Century.
While at least one website heralded “[s]oon it will be acceptable to kick a pig’s stomach,” such a viewpoint is unlikely to be shared by all. While the bioengineered pigs bladder footballs will be just that—bioengineered, and not in-and-of-themselves from actual pigs—O’Shea is harvesting the living cells from abattoir waste.
Via Next Nature
Images © John O’Shea