Image: University of Seville
Squares, triangles, rectangles—you’d think the list of shapes we have names for is pretty well settled by this point. Not so fast: behold the “scutoid.”The craggy, quasi-cylindrical construction may sound alien, but the scutoid is actually found about as close to home as you can get: in your skin. In a study published in Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Seville in Spain, Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and several other research institutions concluded that the type of cells responsible for forming skin and the lining of an organism’s organs will morph into scutoids in order to accommodate those organs’ complex curvature.
In a statement by one of the authors, Luis M. Escudero of the University of Seville compared these cells—called “epithelial cells”—and the shapes they form to Lego blocks. Scutoids are the perfect shape for fitting the cells together tightly and efficiently, and can act as a shield against infection.According to Escudero, the scutoid shape allows an embryo to advance from a simple structure with minimal cells to a complex organism. “This process doesn't only occur because of the growth of the organism, but also because the epithelial cells start 'moving and joining together' to organise themselves correctly and give the organs their final shape,” Escudero said.
No one really knew what shape epithelial cells took on during organ development before this study, and they were usually represented by a prism or pyramid-like appearance. Through computer simulations and observation of animal tissue, however, researchers found the scutoid to be the ideal architecture for our rounded and curved organs.The researchers said that in the future, knowledge of the scutoid can shed light on diseases that complicate or alter organ development.Listen to our podcast about the world’s greatest mysteries that were solved by science.