Scientists Finally Discover The Function of the Human Appendix

2007

For years it was thought that the appendix does not have any purpose. But recently, scientists have discovered what the function of this organ is and they state that is isn’t redundant at all, despite popular opinion. According to them, the appendix is a safe place where the good bacteria accumulate, and the body makes use of it to reboot the digestive system in case of cholera or dysentery. Popular opinion was stating that this is just a small pouch that protrudes from the beginning of the large intestine and is completely redundant. Another theory was that it might be evolutionary shadow of some organ that is not useful anymore. Doctors have advised patients for years to remove their appendix because it doesn’t have any apparent use, and most of them have it removed and see no problem in that.

Scientists from the Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina claim that after a severe bout of dysentery or cholera, the good bacteria are being eliminated from the body and since they are crucial for digestion, the appendix serves as a reservoir and help the body to compensate these bacteria. However, Professor Bill Parker says that even this discovery doesn’t mean that we should stick to the appendix at all costs. People should understand that the appendix can be removed if it gets severely inflamed, despite its beneficial function. It is interesting that this finding is not supposed to do harm to people who think that they should hold on to their appendix and won’t go to the doctor just because it has a function, the Professor explains further.

An associate professor in the Department of Medical Sciences at RMIT University, Nicholas Vardaxis, declares that this theory established by the Duke University’s group of scientists makes sense. He says that this is an interesting idea and that it is possible for the appendix to be the place for these little bacteria to localize in, a little cul-de-sac away from the remaining parts. If the changes that happen through evolution are observed, then it can be concluded that the higher the animals stand in the evolutionary scale, the smaller and less significant the appendix becomes. Humans are a great instance of this claim.

The normal, standard flora bacteria in our appendix and in our gut are the same, meaning that we have lost almost all of these specialized bacteria. Losing these specialized bacteria indicates that this safe place where these bacteria accumulate has also lost its function. This also means that the appendix is vestige of something that was there previously, in previous incarnations. These findings were discovered by examination of the appendices of koalas. The koalas are known to have extremely long appendices, one of the animals that have the longest appendices.

It was discovered that their appendix contributes to their diet a lot, which consists of almost only eucalyptus leaves. Professor Vardaxis claims that even though the human appendix has the same function as that of the koalas, we probably won’t see any shrinking of the Australian marsupial’s organ any soon. This would happen exclusively in conditions if a massive blight of eucalyptus happens and the koalas won’t have something to thrive on, so maybe then some mutant koalas would appear and they would start consuming something else, and over many generations and hundreds or even thousands of years their appendix is going to become shrunk as well.

According to Professor Vardaxis, the shrinkage of the human appendix is a result of changes in their diet and was happening over many years, thousands of them. However, some species that now have larger appendix can go through the same if their diets were to change considerably and drastically, and their appendix would start to shrink. According to Vardaxis, koalas could also suffer from appendicitis at a point and in that case, their appendix is going to have to be removed, just like in humans.

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