Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Appendix: not just for ruptures anymore

Natterings by Nat Lauzon - as seen in The Monitor, 2009
Have you had your appendix removed? Yeah, you might wanna get your money back.
Until now, we've largely considered the appendix to be a useless remnant of evolution. Just a slimy, passive sac that takes up space and gets infected on ocassion. Sounds like a few of my ex-boyfriends actually. All these years, we've been yanking out appendixes like garden weeds. But now scientists think they've discovered that the darn thing actually serves a purpose.
They say the appendix could be the place where our 'good' bacteria hangs out until it's needed to tackle infection in the gut. For example, after a wicked bout of the poops (and here I've been relying on bananas and soda crackers). The appendix is essentially a mason jar of probiotics. Ready to fight off the bad stuff. Some information goes so far as to say the appendix " can help make, direct and train white blood cells". It's a little army recruit program down there.
Got me to thinking about some other body parts we consider "useless". The spleen, for one. Sure, we can live without it, but studies show it might have the power to heal damaged hearts ( oh, this is sooo going to put Delilah at Night out of work). And have you ever really thought about your 'tailbone' as other than something that hurts like a mo fo when you land on it? What if that part of our species development is just on pause and we all wake up one morning hanging from the eaves by our newly-sprouted tails?
I was a kid who managed to dodge a tonsillectomy back in the day. But we now know that tonsils can filter some bad germs from entering the body. Maybe I've got a special H1N1 filtration pocket in my tonsil meat. Or, maybe tonsils are on an evolutionary path and in a few years, will be able to catch swear words before they come out of our mouths.
You know that groove under your nose and above your lip? The scientific name is the "philtrum" but my grandpa always referred to it as "where to put the butter when you eat corn on the cob". Now, I'm not so sure he was fibbing. What happens if a few years from now, we realize that male nipples can do light up? No more need for book lights or groping your through the dark for a 2am bathroom break. And while we're at it, how 'bout that dangly thing at the back of your throat? Or ear lobes? Wisdom teeth? Hairy backs? Cankles? Can they be kick-started into functioning somehow? They can't ALL be just a cruel joke on humanity can they?
Anyway, the appendix. Not such a useless organ after all. But here's the big question: if the appendix is so full of "good bacteria", how come it gets infected all the time?
Apparently because of our sanitary lifestyles. We don't challenge our immune systems enough. We live in a crystal clean, bacteria-free bubble. So when a bad germ does get in, the appendix overreacts and causes inflammation. Isn't that crazy? We're too clean! We've gotta muck it up a go play in the dirt would ya? Go lick some doorknobs, go ride the metro's all in the name of evolution, dammit!

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