Pig bladders have a long and illustrious history in sports, having made up the inflated innards of the earliest footballs and rugby balls. Now, a scientist named John O'Shea has taken the pig bladder element to a new level, creating what he has dubbed the world's "first bio-engineered football." (Here's another look at the ball from a different angle.)
From Wired UK:
"The origins of football are multiple," he says, using the term the rest of the world uses for the game Americans call soccer. "I'm not convinced that a global monoculture is the best or most interesting way football can develop. The fully synthetic football is a 30-year blip in history."
Twelve months of laboratory work in collaboration with the University of Liverpool, funded by the Wellcome Trust, has yielded proof of concept balls. Smaller than the standard size-five balls FIFA uses, the proof of concept models are made from a 3D-printed organic polymer and show the first signs of cell growth onto the scaffold structure.
The process, greatly simplified, involves harvesting the cells, which O'Shea collected from bladders taken from recently slaughtered pigs, and culturing stem cells. O'Shea then designed a ball-shaped "scaffold" or matrix on which the cells would grow, then printed that matrix on a Makerbot Cupcake 3D printer.
Here's a quick video showing how O'Shea constructed his matrix using a home 3-D printer. (Make sure your volume is turned down.)