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Your Appendix Could Save Your Life

You may have heard that the appendix is a relic of our past, like the hind leg bones of a whale. Bill Parker, a professor of surgery at the Duke University School of Medicine, heard that, too; he just disagrees. Parker thinks the appendix serves as a “nature reserve” for beneficial bacteria in our gut. When we get a severe gut infection such as cholera (which happened often during much of our history and is common in many regions even today), the bene­ficial bacteria in our gut are depleted. The appendix allows them to be re­stored. In essence, Parker sees the appendix as a sanctuary for our tiny mutualist friends, a place where there is always room at the inn.

Parker’s hypothesis, which he and collaborators first published in 2007 in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, is a fundamentally new idea about how an organ in our body works. A paper published last December provides new data to back up the theory.

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