Sunday, February 5, 2012

Are vestigial organs really useless?

Humans are equipped with a handful of vestigial, or “useless” organs including the appendix and coccyx (tailbone). According to scientific principle, over generations, natural selection selects for traits that contribute to fitness and in theory with time, vestigial organs would disappear among future humans. However, research suggests that these vestiges may not actually be entirely useless. While we tend to overlook these organs, it is worthy to understand the evolutionary progression of these vestigial parts. Insight into the evolutionary history of vestigial organs may help us understand the importance of these assumed-to-be vestiges and what the future human may be.

The coccyx although does not truly exhibit a function, is an important organ based on its mere structural placement. The coccyx serves as the attachment point between muscles and the pelvis, which allows for locomotion.

A more common vestige, the appendix, originally served to facilitate the digestion of grass many generations ago. However, now research suggests that the appendix is an indirect storage space for certain microbes involved in digestion.

Less known to common knowledge, the pinky toe is also classified as a vestigial organ. However, it has been stipulated that this toe actually assists in maintaining balance and can also alleviate some of the pressure and strain exerted on the foot as whole when running.

Alternatively, there are still some vestigial organs that remain “useless” by definition and serve no real purpose in the modern day human. Wisdom teeth, back ear muscles, and the male nipple are body parts that have not been shown to affect an individual’s fitness, ability to survive and reproduce. It has been postulated, that with enough passage of time, these 3 vestiges may eventually disappear leading to the evolution of a modified human.

So essentially, the underlying message is that the concept vestigial organs as being useless to function is actually false because it is not applicable to all vestiges. Personally, I think this warrants further investigation and discussion within the scientific community to re-evaluate the classification of which organs should be grouped into this category.



  1. I enjoyed reading your post. Perhaps the starting point for these questions is to think about their possible functions in the past. Maybe the males could lactate, so they needed nipples? Maybe humans weren't accustomed to eating well-prepared food, so they needed extra teeth?

  2. Nate: That's actually a very interesting perspective. I wonder if maybe cultural evolution has factored into the loss or diminishing purpose of some of these organs that have caused such a shift...