Models reveal key factors that determine the structure of tissue

14 January 2008

Mathematical models have revealed that the way cells pack into the eyes of the fruit fly shares key features in common with the structure of foam. The researchers behind the model claim that it could be useful to understand the structure of other types of tissue, which could lead to advances in regenerative medicine.

In the past, researchers have based their models on a myriad of different factors such as the bulk of the cell, the cell’s activity and the way the cell grows. ‘That’s a nightmare for quantitative scientists; it’s extremely complicated’ says Sascha Hilgenfeldt, associate professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics and engineering at Northwestern University, USA.

In contrast, Hilgenfeldt’s team found, as with foam, the structure of the fruit fly’s eyes can be explained by just two factors – the energy stored when the cell’s membrane is stretched, and the energy stored in the ‘glue’ that holds two adjacent cells together. Hilgenfeldt now hopes to test the model on more tissues with a greater variation in the patterns of cells.

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Northwestern University