Why do we have an appendix today if it has no purpose? Do you realize that I am sixty years old and still have mine? My father, who is now in heaven, lost his when he was twenty-five! He went around calling for it; however, it never came back! Could there be a purpose still for the appendix? I would like biologists and others to join this topic if you dare.
Will a medic do?
The human appendix has an important role in immunity, especially in childhood when the gut is exposed to a welter of new bugs. That’s why it’s packed full of lymphoid tissue (I know, because I’ve removed a few).
Research shows some interesting things:
First, that the appendix always appears to have had an immune, rather than a digestive role, in every species in which it occurs.
Second, that the appendix gets larger, not more vestigial, through the evolutionary sequence of great apes.
Third, the fact that it can be removed without killing the patient is of little significance, not least because a 1956 paper shows that removing the caecum from rabbits (the mega-large homologue which is normally trotted out in comparison) left them quite able to survive.
My conclusion? Like nearly every other “vestigial organ” argument I’ve come across (barring no-brainers like the blind cave fish) the “vestial appendix” story bears little relation to facts, and was just a convenient fable. If you’re interested I did a longer piece on it here recently.
If I ever have any appendix problems, I will try to come to you. If I can’t come to you, then I will ask you to recommend someone. I will be more than pleased to read your article.
My Dear Dr. Garvey,
I hope you do not mind, but I printed out your grand article. I have a notebook where I keep all things of great wisdom. I promise that it will remain a part of my private collection.
It has been an honor.
Be my guest. It’s all there to be used.
That might be dangerous - I retired some years ago, and stopped removing appendices long before!
You are a fine person, Dr. Garvey. God bless.
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