When it's hip to be square

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Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 30-31
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1508

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Most animals and plants approximate a cylinder in shape, and where junctions occur (as with branches of trees or limbs on animals), those corners are “faired,” meaning smoothly curved so that one surface grades into the next (1). When living organisms deviate from the norm, there's usually a good biomechanical reason: a clue to some specific problem that needs to be solved. Among their suite of unusual characteristics, seahorses possess a true oddity: a prehensile tail with a square, rather than round or elliptical, cross-sectional shape. On page 10.1126/science.aaa6683 of this issue, Porter et al. (2) report that there are distinct mechanical advantages to being square. Using three-dimensional (3D) printing to construct physical models, the team demonstrates that the multiplated anatomy of the square seahorse tail shows greater resistance to mechanical deformation than a similar model that has a round cross section.