A group of researchers has discovered a previously undescribed shape they have called a “scutoid” through modeling and experiments. This shape is specifically adopted by packed epithelial cells during embryonic development. The new shape could lead to advancements in tissue engineering according to the team.
As an embryo develops tissue is bent into the complex three-dimensional shape, and the tissues eventually turn into organs. The cells are packed very tightly at this stage and to accommodate the curving that happens during embryonic development scientists discovered with further research that the epithelial cells at this stage adopt a shape that was previously undescribed.
The scutoid shape allows the cells to use minimal energy and maximize packing stability. The project was a collaboration with the US and EU between teams from the Seville University, Spain led by Luis M. Escudero and a team from Lehigh University in the US led by Javier Buceta. Other members of the team include authors Pedro Gomez-Galvez and Pablo Vicente-Munuera and scientists from other institutions.
Scutoids were initially discovered using computational modeling that used Voronoi diagramming, which is a tool used in multiple fields to understand geometrical organization. Buceta says that during the modeling they had results that were “weird.” He said that their model predicted that as the curvature of tissue increases columns and bottle-shapes weren’t the only shapes that cells adopted.
The other shape that was discovered didn’t even have a name in math. Scutoid was chosen because of its resemblance to the scutellum, the posterior part of an insect thorax or midsection. The shape can stabilize three-dimensional packing and make it more energy efficient. The team says that the findings could help in the understanding of 3D organization of epithelial organs and advancements in tissue engineering.