Saturday, October 06, 2007

Scientists discover purpose of human appendix

The AP reports that scientists may have discovered the true purpose of the human appendix:

...For generations the appendix has been dismissed as superfluous. Doctors figured it had no function, surgeons removed them routinely, and people live fine without them... [but] when infected the appendix can turn deadly...

The function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria populating the human digestive system, according to the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. There are more bacteria than human cells in the typical body. Most of it is good and helps digest food.

But sometimes the flora of bacteria in the intestines die or are purged. Diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery would clear the gut of useful bacteria. The appendix's job is to reboot the digestive system in that case.

The appendix "acts as a... safe house for bacteria," said Duke surgery professor Bill Parker, a study co-author. Its location — just below the normal one-way flow of food and germs in the large intestine in a sort of gut cul-de-sac — helps support the theory, he said... Also, the worm-shaped organ outgrowth acts like a bacteria factory...

....before dense populations in modern times and during epidemics of cholera that affected a whole region, it wasn't as easy to grow back that bacteria and the appendix came in handy...

In unrelated news, Ted Kennedy was named Appendix of the Senate.

Recently, officials have grown concerned that the Appendix of the Senate is ready to burst.

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