Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Enigmatic Appendix

Among the vestigial organs in the human body, Jerry Coyne focuses most on the appendix. Apparently, the appendix was once of use in digesting cellulose, but since humans do not eat cellulose, the appendix has been reduced to almost nothing. Yet it is still large enough to become infected and lethal. Thus, what effects does the practice of appendectomy have on the presence of the appendix in humans? Would it be beneficial to the human race to cease operations on infected appendices? Why or why not?


  1. According to Jerry Coyne, "[The appendix] may in fact have been on its way out, but surgery has almost eliminated natural selection against people with appendixes." (62) The fact that surgery, today's modern technology, could prevent natural selection is incredible, and relates greatly with the biological theme of science, technology and society. If surgery were out of the picture, it is very likely that the appendix would no longer be a part of our bodies because they serve no beneficial function (we no longer need them to help us digest cellulose) and they only cause health problems such as appendicitis. If surgery was not there to save those with appendicitis, those who had appendixes would be unable to survive and thus unable to reproduce. Without reproduction, the genes coding for the production of an appendix would no longer be passed along, thus eliminating the existance of an appendix. I think that the fact that the human race has created a way to in a sense defy natural selection is only beneficial to us and we might as well take advantage of the modern day technologies that allow us to survive diseases such as appendicitis.

  2. It seems today that scientists are seeking for a possible function of the appendix. However, the discovered results seem to point that the appendix is largely detrimental to our health rather than beneficial due to its likelihood of harboring bacteria and becoming easily infected. One of the beneficial functions of the appendix, however, is that very harboring of bacteria. Good bacteria could stay on the appendix in case for needed re-population of the gut after a case of bad diarrhea.

    William Parker, assistant professor of surgical sciences at Duke, displays studies regarding the seeming susceptibility of the appendix of becoming inflamed and infected. Parker says that the reason why appendices are so easily infected are due to the new cultural changes we as humans are shown to, such as industrialization and sanitation.

    Well, now to directly answer the question, Coyne says the removal of the appendix could actually be beneficial, such as reducing the possibility of colitis (61). However, the surgical removing of the appendix wouldn't directly influence the genome of humans possessing one. The offspring of those with performed appendectomy would still have the genome for an appendix; therefore, appendectomy wouldn't necessarily reduce future appendix-bearing humans. If we didn't treat those with appendicitis and all those infected died, I still don't think this would prove to be beneficial for the human race. Appendicitis is still associated with probability, the probability of acquiring a pathogen specific for appendicitis, and through the strength of one's immune system.

    Science technology has advanced to the point where it can deter natural selection; I would say we might as well utilize this. In order for evolution to take place, a very long period of time is needed. In order for all of those with the coded genome for appendix to die out, an incredible number of human sacrifices would be needed, humans that could very well contribute to society. Since our technology is capable of curing those with appendix problems, or most other diseases, we no longer have a need for evolution, and should do our best to save the lives of those with potential of bettering the human race rather than leaving it to such the life-costly process of evolution just to get rid of a somewhat insignificant organ.

    This question is a somewhat morality based one, and can can also be tied to the question should we treat mentally retarded people or let them die out.
    Why Evolution is True