Scientists Find More Evidence That Your Appendix Serves a Purpose

iStock
iStock

It’s time to stop picking on the appendix. An article published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol supports the theory that the much-maligned organ may serve as a “safe house” for beneficial bacteria.

Your appendix is a little tube connected to the cecum (a pouch at the end of your large intestine) on the right side of your abdomen. Most of us know two things about the appendix: that infection there is dangerous, and that the organ itself is useless. The first statement is definitely true. A burst appendix is nobody’s idea of a good time. But useless? Perhaps not.

One scientific paper published in early 2016 found that removing an appendix-like structure in mice made them more susceptible to infection and inflammation. Other researchers have argued that the little tube acts as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria, keeping them safe even when infection damages the rest of the gut’s bacterial ecosystem. When the dust settles, the good guys in the appendix can start afresh, repopulating the gut with protective microbes.

Heather F. Smith researches the evolution of our bodies at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. For her latest study, she and her colleagues compared the developmental history of the appendix in 533 mammal species.

The researchers found that, far from originating once in a single common ancestor, the appendix evolved independently more than 30 different times—a fact that suggests that it must do something.

The data also showed that species that have an appendix also have a higher concentration of lymphoid tissue, which supports immunity and the growth of beneficial bacteria, in the cecum. Taken all together, these findings support the theory that your appendix is there to help keep you safe and crawling with the right kind of microbes.

So it’s useful, yes. But do we need it? Not entirely. “In general,” Smith told TIME, “people who have had an appendectomy tend to be relatively healthy and not have any major detrimental effects.”

There may be some minor effects, though. People who’ve undergone appendectomies are slightly more prone to infection. “It may also take them slightly longer to recover from illness,” Smith said, “especially those in which the beneficial gut bacteria has been flushed out of the body.”

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Apple

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Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

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Sony

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Martha Stewart

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Jashen

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Evachill

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Gourmia

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Townew

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FenSens

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Noerden

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Prices subject to change.

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100 Fascinating Facts About Earth

The best Spaceball.
The best Spaceball.
NASA

Did you know that there’s a place in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo that’s farther from land than any other point on Earth? So far, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (And by the way: The map you’re about to look for Point Nemo on might not be entirely accurate; a certain amount of distortion occurs when trying to depict a 3D planet on a 2D surface.)

In this all-new episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is journeying to the center of the Earth, and visiting its oceans, its atmosphere, and even space, in search of 100 facts about our endlessly fascinating planet.

The subjects that fall under the umbrella of “facts about Earth” are nearly as expansive as Earth itself. Geology, biology, astronomy, and cartography, are all fair game—and those are just a few of the many -ologies, -onomies, and -ographies you’ll learn about below. 

Press play to find out more Earth-shattering facts, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for more fact-filled videos here.