The Human Appendix is A Bacterial Flash Drive

If you remember learning about the Appendix in Biology, you’ll probably also remember that no one had any idea why it exists. It’s been stumping scientists for years. That is, until just recently . . .

In September of 2007, Biochemist and immunologist William Parker came up with a theory and explanation for the appendix:

The human vermiform (“worm-like”) appendix is a 5–10 cm long and 0.5–1 cm wide pouch that extends from the cecum of the large bowel. The architecture of the human appendix is unique among mammals, and few mammals other than humans have an appendix at all.

The function of the human appendix has long been a matter of debate, with the structure often considered to be a vestige of evolutionary development despite evidence to the contrary based on comparative primate anatomy. The appendix is thought to have some immune function based on its association with substantial lymphatic tissue, although the specific nature of that putative function is unknown.

Based (a) on a recently acquired understanding of immune-mediated biofilm formation by commensal bacteria in the mammalian gut, (b) on biofilm distribution in the large bowel, (c) the association of lymphoid tissue with the appendix, (d) the potential for biofilms to protect and support colonization by commensal bacteria, and (e) on the architecture of the human bowel, we propose that the human appendix is well suited as a “safe house” for commensal bacteria, providing support for bacterial growth and potentially facilitating re-inoculation of the colon in the event that the contents of the intestinal tract are purged following exposure to a pathogen.

So, in Tech Geek Terms, the Appendix is like a USB Flash Drive that stores healthy, protective bacteria that can be used as a backup to reboot the intestine after a bacteria-depleting diarrhea illness like cholera. Parker noted that, “if you don’t have something like the appendix to harbor safe bacteria, you have less of a survival advantage.” In other words: ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR MISSION CRITICAL DATA.

Jeff Random came up with the Flash Backup Drive analogy and we discussed it on the Car ride from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

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