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Previously Unknown “Scutoid” Shape, Critical to Biology, Calls Architecture and Design to Mind


A previously unknown shape, the scutoid, turns out to be crucial to the origin of life beyond the unicellular. It also seems to call forth analogies to architecture and design that may leave Darwinists feeling uneasy.

“A Building Block of Multicellular Organisms”

From The New Yorker:

Until last week, the world of science was unaware of the scutoid. The scutoid is a basic three-dimensional shape, like a cube or a sphere but not like either of those things. It’s more like a column with half of one end lopped off at an angle; popular accounts have described it as a twisted prism, although that’s not so helpful. “It’s a prism with a zipper,” Javier Buceta, a biophysicist at Lehigh University and one of the scutoid’s discoverers, told me excitedly. This was also not so helpful….

[S]cutoids turn out to be everywhere, especially in living things. The shape, however odd, is a building block of multicellular organisms; complex life might never have emerged on Earth without it….

One of the many mysteries of living cells is how they manage to blossom into coherent many-celled units. A person or a platypus begins as a single cell, which divides into more cells, which also divide and subdivide. Some of these, the epithelial cells, are destined to become tissues and organs. The cells collect into layers, which bend and fold into greater-than sums: ovaries, kidneys, a heart. In part, it’s a packing challenge, a geometry problem

Buceta offered the analogy of a Roman arch. You can form rectangular cobblestones into a straight row, but to form a curve the stones must be reshaped so that one face — the bottom end, on the inside of the arch — is smaller than the top face.

USA Today points out, “The researchers named the shape after a similar design in the thorax of some beetles.” What!? A similar “design”? The “design in the thorax”? BGR echoes: “It was named after a beetle’s back which appears to share the same design.” So does Popular Mechanics: “Much of our bodies are covered in epithelial cells, which are cells designed to stick very closely together in order to form some type of barrier or wall.” 

The Wrong Idea

These sources should be more careful with their word choice. Someone could get the wrong idea.

Speaking of architecture and design, our colleague Jay Richards points out, “It looks a lot like the new high-rise in Seattle, just uphill from the Discovery Institute offices.” So it does.

Daniel Reeves stepped outside the offices and snapped this photo under an overcast sky. It’s a scutoid, hiding in plain view! Or looks a bit like one at first glance, anyway.

Image credit: Scutoids, by University of Seville, via Lehigh University. Photo credit: Daniel Reeves.