Appendix stores ‘beneficial bacteria’ – Duke University study

A Duke University health study deems the appendix worthy, more than a vestigial part after all.  The appendix gives storage to, “Beneficial bacteria living in the gut,” according to Duke Medicine News and Communications.

From the news release:

Drawing upon a series of observations and experiments, Duke University Medical Center investigators postulate that the beneficial bacteria in the appendix that aid digestion can ride out a bout of diarrhea that completely evacuates the intestines and emerge afterward to repopulate the gut. Their theory appears online in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

“While there is no smoking gun, the abundance of circumstantial evidence makes a strong case for the role of the appendix as a place where the good bacteria can live safe and undisturbed until they are needed,” said William Parker, PhD, assistant professor of experimental surgery, who conducted the analysis in collaboration with R. Randal Bollinger, MD, PhD, Duke professor emeritus in general surgery.

The appendix is a slender two- to four-inch pouch located near the juncture of the large and small intestines. While its exact function in humans has been debated by physicians, it is known that there is immune system tissue in the appendix.

The gut is populated with different microbes that help the digestive system break down the foods we eat. In return, the gut provides nourishment and safety to the bacteria. Parker now believes that the immune system cells found in the appendix are there to protect, rather than harm, the good bacteria.

For the past ten years, Parker has been studying the interplay of these bacteria in the bowels, and in the process has documented the existence in the bowel of what is known as a biofilm. This thin and delicate layer is an amalgamation of microbes, mucous and immune system molecules living together atop of the lining the intestines.

“Our studies have indicated that the immune system protects and nourishes the colonies of microbes living in the biofilm,” Parkers explained. “By protecting these good microbes, the harmful microbes have no place to locate. We have also shown that biofilms are most pronounced in the appendix and their prevalence decreases moving away from it.”

Read the full report, click here.

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