Scientists have just defined a new form called Scutoid (SCOO-Toid), while they examine epithelial cells, the building blocks of embryos that ultimately form our skin and lining our organs and blood vessels. They believe that the scutoid shape is extremely efficient in keeping cells tightly packed and organized in the literal twists and turns of development.
When embryos grow, their tissues curve and bend as they begin to form into organs. Scientists thought the cells might remain tightly packed if they were bottle-shaped or columnar, but computer models suggested that a more complex shape would be more likely.
First, a computer model was created to predict which cell shapes would most efficiently remain in contact, both in flat and in curved layers. This form ended prismatically, with six sides at one end, five at the other, and a strange triangular surface at one of the long edges of the prism. Look at this diagram:
Using microscopy and computer imaging, the team confirmed that cells found in zebrafish fruit fly salivary glands and cells were indeed skutoid-shaped. As mentioned in their article published in Nature Communications on Friday, the researchers believe that these scutoid-shaped cells exist in every curved leaf of epithelial cells – even in humans.
Luis Escudero, a developmental biologist at the University of Seville in Spain and co-author of the work, told Gizmodo that it was difficult to define what the new shape looked like in the early stages of computer modeling. It was not clear until one day he modeled clay with his daughter.
When the team identified the shape by name, they realized that it was completely new to math and geometry.
"It was such a surprise!" Escudero Gizmodo said.