Optimal packing of cells in tissues

Faculty Mentor: Sharon Lubkin

Prerequisites: Calculus, Physics I, programming experience.

Outline: How cells pack in a tissue determines the nature of the tissue. Controlling how cells pack in a tissue provides a biological engine for changing the shape and function of a tissue. What is the correspondence between what we see under the microscope, and the physics which generated the observed patterns? Epithelial tissues consist of cells with negligible space between them and can be a partitioning of space (1-4). The partitioning is governed by physics (surface tension and adhesion) and biology (the nucleus).

Research objectives: Students will model the packing of cells in tissues and analyze and simulate the optimal packing under different or changing constraints. Analysis will include both exact minimal solutions for specific cases, and statistical analysis of variability within more general cases. Students will also statistically analyze the geometric features of cells in example tissues, via 3D image analysis.

Outcomes: Comparison of model results with microscopy data will contribute to our understanding of the physics controlling cell packing in tissues.


  • Brezavšček A, Rauzi M, Leptin M, Ziherl P. A model of epithelial invagination driven by collective mechanics of identical cells. Biophys J. 1012;103:1069-1077.
  • Farhadifar R, Roper JC, Aigouy B, Eaton S, Julicher F. The influence of cell mechanics, cell-cell interactions, and proliferation on epithelial packing. Curr Biol. 2007;17:2095-2104.
  • Gomez-Galvez P, Vicente-Munuera P, Tagua A, Forja C, Castro AM, Letran M, Valencia-Exposito A, Grima C, Bermudez-Gallardo M, Serrano-Perez-Higueras O, Cavodeassi F, Sotillos S, Martin-Bermudo MD, Marquez A, Buceta J, Escudero LM. Scutoids are a geometrical solution to three-dimensional packing of epithelia. Nat Commun. 2018;9:2960.
  • Norman J, Sorrell EL, Hu Y, Siripurapu V, Garcia J, Bagwell J, Charbonneau P, Lubkin SR, Bagnat M. Tissue self-organization underlies morphogenesis of the notochord. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018;373(1759).