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The appendix mystery might be solved

The appendix has always been looked upon as a useless organ that only serves as an annoyance due to its susceptibility to inflammation. But new research suggests that the appendix has an important role in storing beneficial bacteria.
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Written by Ina Muri, Weekend Editor on

New research suggest the appendix is more useful than the block of of superfluous tissue that it is suggested to be, the Guardian reports.

Bill Parker, an assistant professor of experimental surgery at Duke University medical centre, said that the appendix serves a very useful function, acting as a safe house for beneficial bacteria in our bodies and is really a sanctuary for helpful microbes.

"My idea is that the appendix is a storehouse, a cultivation centre for the normal, beneficial bacteria that our gut needs," Parker said. "That safe house would be necessary and useful in the event that the main compartment of bacteria, the large bowel, got contaminated with some kind of infectious organism and flushed out."

A crucial part of Parker's theory rests on the importance of the bacteria found in our intestines. Our bodies are made up of 10 trillion cells. However, we carry about 10 times as many microorganisms inside our bodies, and most of these are found in our gut. The bacteria take some of our sources of energy and in return help prevent of harmful, pathogenic bacteria and produce vitamins and hormones that are crucial to our wellbeing.

Parker first outlined his ideas about he appendix in 2007, and researchers have since tried to find evidence to support them. In the current issue of Scientific American, one research team has found intriguing evidence that suggest Parker may be correct. A study led by James Grendell, at Winthorp-University hospital on Long Island, studied patients with gut infections caused by Clostridium difficile. Sometimes also called C diff, it is a deadly pathogen that often occurs in hospitals with patients who have been put on prolonged courses of antibiotics.

Grendall's team discovered that patients without an appendix was more that twice as likely to have a recurrence of C diff infections. Recurrence in those without their appendix occurred in 45 percent of the cases, as opposed to 18 percent in those who have one.

However, Parker stresses he does not believe that people should hesitate in having an appendix removed if it becoms badly infected. Modern medicine can provide the protection that appendices supplied in our evolutionary past.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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