Complex Shape Found in Cells

Quick Takes


The cells in your body don’t use just simple boxes to build things. They appear to employ a surprisingly complex geometric shape in some of their packing material, a shape called a “scutoid.” While examining the protective layer of cells known as epithelial cells, a team at the University of Seville in Spain found that instead of the expected prism- or pyramid-like shapes, epithelial cells in zebrafish depend on a shape previously unidentified in geometry.

The importance of this discovery should not be understated. As the technology of tissue engineering advances and we move closer to building fully functional artificial organs, scientists have learned the pivotal importance of mimicking the exact shapes of cells. If they are incorrectly shaped, the artificial organs will be rejected.

What is a scutoid exactly? It is a three-dimensional crystalline shape. One end has five sides and the other has six. The edge of one side edge is divided into a Y shape that allows neighboring scutoids to slot seamlessly together. This shape allows for flexibility and strength.

We often assume that, since we’ve been studying cells for 500 years, we know everything about them. However, we keep discovering new materials and industrial techniques. No wonder, since God’s genius is unfathomable.

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