Show Details

The Vestigial Appendix

January 30, 2007

A listener asks: Does the appendix have a purpose?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Is the appendix useless? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Megan Salazar of Escondido, California, called with this question:

MEGAN SALAZAR (listener):
What is your appendix for, anyway?

HIRSHON:
Well, biologist Dan Fong of American University says the appendix is widely considered a vestigial organ, meaning it’s left over from an earlier time in our evolution.

DANIEL FONG (American University):
Our appendix probably was a very large chamber in our distant ancestor to house a lot of bacteria to digest plant material. When we switched over to a meat-based diet we had less use for it, and in fact we now don’t have any use for it.

HIRSHON:
And of course it can cause problems, requiring an appendectomy if it gets inflamed. If you have a science question, call us at 1-800-why-isit. If we use it on the air, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.