Ask an ex­pert

Pro­fes­sor Barry Mar­shall, mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia

Australian Geographic - - Geobuzz -

Q

Does the hu­man ap­pen­dix have a func­tion?

A

For most of his­tory we had no idea what the ap­pen­dix was for. Re­cently, how­ever, it has been linked to main­tain­ing a healthy gut. Be­fore an­tibi­otics, an in­fec­tion could cause lots of di­ar­rhoea, flush­ing out ‘good’ gut flora in our in­testines. The shape and po­si­tion of the ap­pen­dix makes it ideal as a reser­voir of healthy bac­te­ria to re­pop­u­late the gut af­ter th­ese episodes. This the­ory is sup­ported by a 2012 study, which found that peo­ple with­out an ap­pen­dix were four times more likely to suf­fer re­cur­rent in­fec­tions. Sci­en­tists have found that it has evolved in­de­pen­dently at least 30 times in mam­mals, sug­gest­ing it’s im­por­tant.

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