Forget the octagon, scientists discover a new shape called “scutoid”

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/ published 3 years ago

Forget the octagon, scientists discover a new shape called “scutoid”

The discovery can help us understand how organs acquire such complex, yet in the same time, stable forms. It is critical for future organ and tissue engineering

A team of scientists have managed to identify a new 3D shape, which lets cells pack together without wasting energy. They believe the new shape is the most energy efficient shape. This geometric shape has been hiding in plain sight, but now scientists have managed to identify.

The discovery can help us understand how organs acquire such complex, yet in the same time, stable forms. In the same way as Legos form together, the scutoid enables epithelial cells, which are the construction blocks of organisms, to fold and curve. The new study will help researchers understand how biological structures form, with a hope to apply the newfound knowledge for creation of artificial tissues and organs.

Before this discovery, scientists believed that the epithelial cells adopted a prism or pyramid shape to create such structures. However, after examining the epithelial curves from laboratory samples, the team of scientists determined the shape more closely resembled twisted prisms.

The unique shape is due to the fact that when tissue curves, it tends to minimize energy, making it more stable.

The study

The team from Lehigh University, used computational modeling based on Voronoi diagraming for the purpose of the study. Scientists analyzed the three-dimensional packing of tissues in different animals, and found one constant. They found the animals adopted shaped predicted by the model.


During the modeling process, the results the team saw were weird, says Javier Buceta, one of the scientists in the study. The model predicted as the curvature of tissues increases, columns and bottle-shapes were not the only shapes that cells may develop. Once they found out the new shape, they were even more surprised, as the new form didn’t even have a name in math. They were glad they had the opportunity to name the new shape.

In the study, the researchers found out that the process relies on previously undescribed shape, which allows cells to maintain maximum stability while conserving energy. That is why they believe the new shape is the most efficient geometric shape to date. It is the most energy-efficient method of cell organization.

It was previously thought that the cells take on a columnar or bottle-like shape as they pack together. The study concluded that “in addition to the fundamental aspect of morphogenesis, the ability to engineer tissues and organs in the future critically relies on the ability to understand, and then control, the 3D organization of cells.

Making sense of the new shape

In order to understand the new shape, we need to understand epithelial cells. These cells are the building blocks of the embryonic development. They have to endure the twisting and packing that happens as the organs of the embryo form.


The team was studying these cells which can be found lining our organs and blood vessels. They pinpointed a three-dimensional shape that occurs as they bend and pack together.

According to the team of scientists, the process allows cells to maintain maximum stability while conserving energy. They named the new shape “scutoid” after the scutellum of a beetle’s thorax.

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