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The Vestigial Appendix

January 30, 2007

A listener asks: Does the appendix have a purpose?


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?

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.

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.