The Mystery of the Appendix… Unravelled?

Image Credit: smile! Ben Ivory via Flickr ( License )

The appendix, which is regarded as the body’s least useful organ, may not be so useless after all.

For generations it was claimed that this small pouch protruding from the large intestine served no beneficial purpose to the body. Instead, it existed as a block of tissue, which would easily get inflamed, cause unnecessary pain and end up being surgically removed. Researchers challenged the idea that the appendix served no purpose. Many suggested that its role belonged to the lymphatic system, for example, carrying white blood cells which could be used for fighting infections.

Image of the human appendix. Image credit: ©2013, WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Image of the human appendix. Image credit: ©2013, WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

But, researchers of Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina revealed that they finally discovered an evolutionary function of this organ, which is to act as a reserve for good bacteria and to essentially “reboot” the digestive system 1. This comes into greater play when one is suffering from a session of dysentery or cholera, causing the bacteria essential for our digestion to be expelled from the gut. The appendix would, therefore, be ready and available to replace the bacteria that were lost after such an event.

Despite this finding, doctors still believe that one must not hesitate to remove an appendix should it become badly infected. Moreover, modern medicines are now able to provide the protection that an appendix would supply.

Edited by Debbie Nicol



  1. More info here. 

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