Scientists have determined that there is officially a new organ in the human body, which now will be enshrined within our starting lineup of stomach, lungs, heart, kidneys, and the other slimy, wriggly bags of glop pulsing along inside our skin suits.
The new organ — called the mesentery — isn’t “new” in the sense that it only popped into the human body in 2016. It’s always been there, between your intestines and your abdomen, helping to advance the human digestive system. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci, who found time to weigh in on anatomy between completing paintings and designing machines that never got built, considered it to be an organ, but later medical types decided that the mesentery instead should be viewed as a number of distinct structures. However, recent tests confirmed that the distinct structures function together, which means that old Leo was right and puts the mesentery squarely into the “organ” category. Gray’s Anatomy, the ultimate medical textbook, has had to be amended to make sure that the mesentery is properly categorized, and scientists and doctors hope that the changed classification will allow the mesentery to be more fully studied and, perhaps, lead to the development of better surgical approaches and treatments of disease.
The mesentery may be an ugly conglomeration of tissue that looks like something that has washed up on a beach and sat there for a while, but it performs two important functions. First, it provides a conduit for blood vessels, nerves, and the lymphatic system to reach from the rest of the human body down to the intestines. And second, it allows the intestines to be linked to the abdominal wall without being directly attached to the wall.
As one doctor noted, in describing this second function: “It is unlikely that [the intestine] would be able to contract and relax along its entire length if it were directly in contact [with the abdominal wall]. [The mesentery] maintains the intestine in a particular conformation, ‘hitched up,’ so that when you stand up or walk about, it doesn’t collapse into the pelvis and not function.”
An important function? I’ll say! Given the role of the intestines, we obviously all should be gratefully thanking the mesentery for allowing us to answer nature’s call without having to “hitch up” and rearrange our innards afterwards. I’m glad the mesentery is finally getting its just acknowledgement.