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Appendix found to be useful – again!

January 31, 2017


The human body is still far from being deciphered – from a medical point of view. Modern technology nowadays provides research and clinical trial tools like never before. What others barely presumed a while ago, current specialists are able to prove. Either by using the power of big data, either by refining the available data in new ways, researchers can finally shed light on ambiguous questions. One of these questions is the appendix’s role in humans.

Recently the team of Dr. Heather F. Smith from the Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine mapped the available data on the presence of the appendix in mammals. By studying the resulting phylogeny tree, they reached an interesting conclusion.

What important function does the appendix have, according to the Midwestern study?

The study mentioned above is entitled “Morphological evolution of the mammalian cecum and cecal appendix “. The participating researchers noticed that the appendix evolved independently in several different mammal lineages, with very few cases of disappearance once it has been established. The dietary and environmental factors did not stand as viable causes – therefore this part of the mammal organism serves an important internal function.

They managed to connect the presence of the appendix with higher average concentrations of lymphoid tissue in the cecum. Also the team concluded that the appendix does not evolve independently, but in a “cecoappendicular complex”.

But what is the important role the appendix serves? In case you have not guessed by the lymphoid tissue clue – the appendix’ function could be that of bacterial “safe house”. It has an “immunity-related purpose”. At least that is what the researchers ventured to theorize, based on their findings.

Has nobody figured the appendix’s role before?

Apparently they did. Let’s review just a few examples, provided by the online media.

In 2006, LiveScience featured a material by Christopher Wanjeck. The author does not include study-based references, but nevertheless he employs logic to suggest that the appendix in fact might have an important role for the entire organism. By looking at the way the appendix’s lymphoid tissue integrates the B lymphocytes and immunoglobulin A antibodies production, Mr. Wanjeck concluded that the tiny organ is in fact a training ground for white cells.

In 2007, a team of surgeons and immunologists from the Duke University Medical School denied the fact that our appendix would be superfluous. They published a study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, stating that the appendix “acts as a good safe house for bacteria”. Acting like a bacteria factory that produces good germs, the appendix activates itself mostly in less developed countries, where the gut bacteria are less “hygienic”. This gut fail-safe system fabricates the much-needed gut microorganisms that regulate digestion and intestinal absorption.

The Duke theory motivated other specialists to provide validation replies. As the source above mentions, five scientists that did not participate in the research appreciated that the conclusions make evolutionary sense.

More recent studies on the appendix’s role in humans

The same Duke University team detailed the initial study later in 2009. They let the public opinion familiarize itself with the idea that the appendix is wrongly qualified as a vestigial organ. Professor William Parker, specialized in immunology, explained their findings contextually: “The appendix has been around for at least 80 million years, much longer than we would estimate if Darwin’s ideas about the appendix were correct “.

In 2013 the specialized media reported new developments on the same line of studies. The same William Parker (now a surgeon), from the Duke University, formed a joint team with Heather Smith (evolutionary biologist ), from the Midwestern University. They placed the previous hypothesis in a phylogeny context. By studying the diet and lineage evolution in 361 living mammals, the researchers excluded the Darwinian ideas concerning the appendix. From the modern research resulted no link between environment and diet (and dietary changes) and the appendix.

We are in fact mainly looking at the same scientific study, evolving over the years. In order to fully support their hypothesis, researchers often need to cross into a different specialty field. Joint teams provide a new take on the same ideas. By adding further details, their theory better stands trial from the scientific community. The process may be enriched by practical conclusions and facts coming from the field.

Final mentions

We cannot help but notice once again the modern medicine’s penchant for an immunological take. Modern technology allows detailed explorations into the human body and its secrets. Amazingly, the resulting hypothesis revive older concepts. It seems like the organisms can do more than we granted them credit for, when it comes to survival. The need to intervene when it comes to common affections might be less than thought of. Yet, human life is no gambling game. Therefore, even if modern medicine is to apply a less invasive, more re-balancing approach, it still needs to know exactly what happens inside the body.

*The above mentioned change of direction also derives from the conclusions reached when it comes to antibiotic treatment. They are essential in certain affections, yet trigger unwanted reactions when liberally used. Making use of the body’s natural protection and disease fighting systems before sending in antibiotics might be a good move and a more sustainable one – on the long term.