Appendix May Harbor Useful Bacteria

on June 21, 2008

New York Times: “Helpful Bacteria May Hide in Appendix” [Free registration required] If you’re a creationist, you’ve probably known it for a long time; if you’re an evolutionist, you may be just finding out: the human appendix does have a function.

The New York Times reports what creationists have reported since at least as far back as 1988: the appendix has a function and is not a “vestigial” legacy of evolution. The Times’s Nicholas Bakalar writes:

The appendix is a “safe house” for digestion-aiding, disease-fighting bacteria.

Some experts have guessed that it is a vestige of the evolutionary development of some other organ, but there is little evidence for an appendix in our evolutionary ancestors. Few mammals have any appendix at all, and the appendices of those that do bears little resemblance to the human one.

Bakalar covers a report published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology that suggests that the appendix is a “safe house” for digestion-aiding, disease-fighting bacteria. Isolated and nearly cut off from the rest of the digestive system, the appendix offers a haven where good bacteria could “hide out” during, e.g., a digestive infection. But in modern, industrialized countries, where sanitation and medical care renders intestinal disease unlikely and easily controlled, the appendix can be removed without adverse consequences. But the lead author of the study, Duke assistant professor of surgery William Parker, cautioned, “If your appendix gets inflamed, forget about the fact that it might have some function.”

Dr. Parker emphasized that although this was “not experimental proof,” it was “a deduction based on a lot of information that we’ve had for many years and some key pieces of information that have only been uncovered recently.” The argument that the appendix is evidence of evolution—a useless “leftover” of natural selection—should by now be a vestigial argument! Nonetheless, assistant professor of anatomy Rebecca Fisher of the University of Arizona still ties the appendix back to evolution, saying the appendix is “likely to be a derived feature, selected for a purpose, the enigma is that we didn’t know what that purpose might be.”

How’s this for an answer: the appendix is yet another clever design of a loving God. We can only speculate its pre-Curse function—presumably it helped maintain microbe levels in the digestive system—but the maladies of infections and appendicitis happened only after the Curse.

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