Soap bubbles delight children and the young at heart, but they also have been objects of scientific study for centuries. Operating under the laws of physics, bubbles always try to minimize their surface area, even when many bubbles are aggregated together.
Now two Northwestern University scientists have demonstrated that the tendency to minimize surface area is not limited to soap bubbles but extends to living things as well. In a paper published Oct. 7 in the journal Nature, they show that cells within the retina take on shapes and pack together like soap bubbles, ultimately forming a pattern that is repeated again and again across the eye. Gaining insight into these patterns can help researchers understand the interplay between genetics and physics in cell formation.
"The cells we studied, those found in the retina of the fruit fly, adopt mathematically predictable shapes and configurations," said Richard W. Carthew, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology and a co-author on the paper. "Like bubbles, life has co-opted a physical tendency for surfaces to be minimized and has harnessed it to design intricate cellular patterns within complex structures such as the eye."
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