Scientists have identified a new shape called the scutoid, a form that a group of cells in the body takes to pack tightly and efficiently into the tricky curves of organs, scientists reported in a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications. The shape was discovered while a team of researchers were studying epithelial cells, which are the safety shields of the body that make up the cell walls lining our blood vessels and organs. The shape of these cell structures has long been a mystery to scientists. And now the scientists used computer modelling and imaging to settle the question once and for all.
As tissues and organs develop, epithelial cells squish together, twisting and turning into highly efficient and complex three-dimensional structures that help block microbes from entering our skin and organs. Researchers ran a computer model to see what the most efficient shape for the epithelial cells would be to take. It produced a strange, prism-like shape, one with six sides on one end, five on the other and a strange triangular protrusion coming out of the sides. The team confirmed that cells found in fruit fly salivary glands and cells in zebrafish were indeed scutoid-shaped. Researchers believe the scutoid-shaped cells exist even in humans.
Luis Escudero, a developmental biologist at the University of Seville in Spain and co-author on the work told Gizmodo, “It was such a surprise.” When the team went to identify the shape by name, they realised it was completely new to mathematics and geometry. They decided to name the scutoid after the scutellum of a beetle because the two-look similar from top-down view.
Senior study author Javier Buceta said in a statement, “If you are looking to grow artificial organs, this discovery could help you build a scaffold to encourage this kind of cell packing, accurately mimicking nature’s way to efficiently develop tissues.” He further added, “One does not normally have the opportunity to name a new shape.” Escudero told Gizmodo, “We believe that this is a breakthrough in many ways. We are convinced that there are more implications that we are trying to understand.”