The Appendix: Useful and in Fact Promising
The body's appendix has long been thought of as nothing more than a worthless evolutionary artifact, good for nothing save a potentially lethal case of inflammation.
Now researchers suggest the appendix is a lot more than a useless remnant. Not only was it recently proposed to actually possess a critical function, but scientists now find it appears in nature a lot more often than before thought. And it's possible some of this organ's ancient uses could be recruited by physicians to help the human body fight disease more effectively.
Darwin was also not aware that appendicitis, or a potentially deadly inflammation of the appendix, is not due to a faulty appendix, but rather to cultural changes associated with industrialized society and improved sanitation, Parker said.
"Those changes left our immune systems with too little work and too much time their hands - a recipe for trouble," he said. "Darwin had no way of knowing that the function of the appendix could be rendered obsolete by cultural changes that included widespread use of sewer systems and clean drinking water."
Now that scientists are uncovering the normal function of the appendix, Parker notes a critical question to ask is whether anything can be done to prevent appendicitis. He suggests it might be possible to devise ways to incite our immune systems today in much the same manner that they were challenged back in the Stone Age.
"If modern medicine could figure out a way to do that, we would see far fewer cases of allergies, autoimmune disease, and appendicitis," Parker said.
The scientists detailed their findings online August 12 in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.