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The Appendix Might Have An Important Biological Use After All

Update Date: Jan 13, 2017 08:20 AM EST

The appendix, dubbed as the ticking time bomb inside the abdomen, may have an important biological use than previously thought.

A new study suggests that the appendix may actually serve an important purpose by boosting immunity and acting as a "safe house" for essential gut bacteria. For many years, this part of the digestive tract has been dubbed as "useless" and a "ticking time bomb" that occasionally flare up into appendicitis, a painful condition that needs surgery.

Vestigial Parts Of The Body

The evolution of man entails the presence of vestigial parts - appendix, tailbone and wisdom teeth that gradually fell out of use as people adapted to more advanced lifestyles than the primitive ancestors.

However, despite the fact that the wisdom teeth caused more pain than good for most people right now, the human appendix could be more than just something that might explode in the abdomen, Science Alert reports.

What They Found

A team of researchers at the Midwestern University led by Heather Smith has studied the appearance, disappearance and re-emergence of the appendix in various mammal lineages over the past 11 million years. The study, published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol, analyzed the presence or absence of an appendix in 533 different animal species.

They discovered that species with an appendix tend to have higher concentrations of immune tissue in their cecum, a pouch connecting the small and large intestines. The study suggests that the appendix is a secondary immune organ, Gizmodo reports.

Moreover, they found that lymphatic tissue can stimulate the growth of some types of beneficial bacteria, hinting that an appendix is a protective place for gut bacteria.

"[T]he appendix has evolved independently in several mammal lineages, over 30 separate times, and almost never disappears from a lineage once it has appeared," the researchers said in a press release.

"This suggests that the appendix likely serves an adaptive purpose," they added.

This discovery follows the mesentery being dubbed as a new organ of the body.

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