Researchers at Duke University Medical Center say that the function of the frequently discarded appendix, an organ often credited with little importance and often dismissed as having no significant function, does it seems have a role to play after all.
Researchers in the United States say the appendix produces and protects good germs for the gut by "rebooting" the digestive system.
The team of immunologists at Duke University Medical Center say the human digestive system contains massive amounts of bacteria most of which are good and help the digestion of food.
However the researchers say sometimes the bacteria die off or are purged from the intestines as in diseases such as cholera or dysentery.
According to the researchers, the appendix's job is to "reboot" the digestive system when that happens with the bacteria safely harbored in the appendix.
Many doctors believe the appendix is a vestigial organ with no function and is no more than a blind ended tube connected to the cecum, from which it develops embryologically.
The cecum is a pouch-like structure of the colon and the appendix is near the junction of the small intestine and the large intestine and has abundant infection-fighting lymphoid cells, which suggests it plays a role in the immune system.
The most common diseases of the appendix (in humans) are appendicitis and carcinoid tumors. Appendix cancer accounts for about 1 in 200 of all gastrointestinal malignancies.
Appendicitis is a condition where the the appendix becomes inflamed and in almost all cases it is removed either by laparotomy or laparoscopy; left untreated, the appendix will rupture, leading to peritonitis, then shock, and, if continued untreated, death.
The appendix is routinely removed without any notable ill effects or side effects and the scientists stress that even though the appendix seems to have a function, people should still have them removed when they are inflamed because since leaving it untreated could be fatal.
Dr. Bill Parker, a professor of surgery and one of the scientists responsible for establishing its status as a useful organ, says the function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria that populates the human digestive system and where it is located just below the normal one-way flow of food and germs in the large intestine, helps support that theory.
The study appears in the online edition of the Journal of Theoretical Biology.