Consisting of a small number of cell layers, an epithelium is the protective membrane that lines animal organs and embryos. The epithelium must continually renew itself, and its cells form a dense colony whose local tension fluctuates during morphogenesis, growth, and tissue repair as some cells are born and others die. Despite the ubiquity of those processes, however, the mechanical and biochemical mechanisms that regulate tensional homeostasis and determine which cells are targeted for removal have long been obscure. Dying or injured cells are not the only ones extruded. As biologists discovered in 2012, so are healthy cells whose migration or proliferation overcrowds the tissue.1 

Intercellular signaling, adhesive junctions, and dynamic stresses generated by the motion of cells are all thought to influence the targeting. But their interplay has made it difficult to disentangle relative contributions. Researchers from the Mechanobiology Institute (MBI) at the National University of Singapore, the...

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