Appendix: a bacterial ‘safe house’
New research suggests function for appendix in maintaining good digestive bacteria populations
Published: 17 October 2007 (GMT+10)
This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 30(4):37.
Vermiform appendix has been shown to have a number of different functions. (Image Wikipedia.org)
The appendix, despite repeatedly being demonstrated to have functions, is still often used as an example of a vestigial organ (See The good, the bad and the evolutionary). However, researchers have recently identified a new job that the appendix has: acting as a ‘good safe house for bacteria’.1 This protects and fosters the growth of good germs for use in the intestines, and enables digestive bacteria system to ‘reboot’ after bouts of disease such as cholera.
The researchers point out that the very features of the appendix that caused people to think of it as useless turn out to be important features for its function. The appendix’s position in the intestines, as a cul-de-sac at the beginning of the material flow of the colon, enables the bacteria cultivated in the appendix to populate the colon with the natural flow of material through the colon. The small worm-like shape of the appendix restricts access and allows the bacteria a ‘safe haven’ to grow.
Because of this, one of the researchers said that the appendix’s function appears diminished today because people live closer together than in times past. If a person’s gut flora dies, it can easily be repopulated through contact with other people.
Appendicitis may also be the result of an overly hygienic society causing an overreaction from the immune system, according to the researchers.
Bacteria that help in digestion are essential for our survival. Since the body possesses more bacterial cells than human cells, one would expect the body, if it were designed, to take care of these bacterial communities so that they are always in abundant supply to do their job. The appendix provides the needed ‘safe haven’ for bacteria. It once again shows that the evidence from biology is wonderfully consistent with the biblical Master Designer who created us in the beginning to eat.