Students watch in amazement as the abdominal cavity of the cadaver is opened. We remove a few structures and after a few minutes we get to the colon. The colon begins with a sac-like structure called the cecum. As we take a closer look at the cecum we see a protruding, finger-like projection.
“This is the appendix” the instructor announces to the students. “It has no known function” he relays with a confidence built on years of study. Well, that statement is now in serious question.
According to researchers from Duke University the appendix does indeed have a purpose. It has to do with the “good” bacteria populating our colons. In fact, it actually acts as a reservoir for good bacteria to live during bouts of diarrhea. The colon can then repopulate much faster.
To support their ideas the Duke researchers teamed with researchers from the University of Arizona to study the evolution of the appendix.
They found that in essence Charles Darwin was wrong. The appendix is not a remnant of evolution but actually appears frequently and has evolved in certain species. For example the appendix evolved in marsupials, rodents, some primates, and of course humans. The researchers found that more than 70% of rodent and primate groups have an appendix. This contradicts Darwin’s ideas that the appendix is a rather rare phenomenon in nature.
So what about appendicitis? The researchers think that appendicitis may be a result of too little stimulation of the immune system. An overactive immune system can cause a variety of problems.
It also appears that the appendix has been around nearly 80 million years which makes it difficult to call it a vestigial remnant.