As organisms develop, mechanical forces exert pressure on their cells, and scientists have long wondered how cells keep their shape—and therefore remain healthy—through the process.

Now, a study led in part by a University of Michigan physicist has observed for the first time that cells use tiny fibers called apical stress fibers to help cells retain their shape during development. Additionally, the study shows that these stress fibers help the cell understand its own size and also help trigger when the cell should divide.

David Lubensky, a professor of physics and biophysics, and colleagues at U-M, the Curie Institute of the Paris Sciences and Letters University, and Sorbonne University in France looked at epithelial cells in the dorsal thorax, or lower back, of fruit fly pupae. Epithelial cells are the cells that compose surface areas in the body—they compose skin as well as blood vessels and inner organs.

You may read the rest of the news story with videos on the U-M News website.