Can Bacteria Make You Smarter? Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego. “Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature,” says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks. Previous research studies on M. vaccae showed that heat-killed bacteria injected into mice stimulated growth of some neurons in the brain that resulted in increased levels of serotonin and decreased anxiety. “Since serotonin plays a role in learning we wondered if live M. vaccae could improve learning in mice,” says Matthews. Matthews and Jenks fed live bacteria to mice and assessed their ability to navigate a maze compared to control mice that were not fed the bacteria. “We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice,” says Matthews. In a second experiment the bacteria were removed from the diet of the experimental mice and they were retested. While the mice ran the maze slower than they did when they were ingesting the bacteria, on average they were still faster than the controls. A final test was given to the mice after three weeks’ rest. While the experimental mice continued to navigate the maze faster than the controls, the results were no longer statistically significant, suggesting the effect is temporary. “This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals,” says Matthews.
“It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.” – sources: sciencedaily.com – sage.edu ~ Mycobacterium vaccae is a nonpathogenic species of the Mycobacteriaceae family of bacteria that lives naturally in soil. Its name is derived from the Latin word, vacca (cow) as the first described strain was isolated from cow dung in Austria. Research areas being pursued with regard to killed Mycobacterium vaccae vaccine include immunotherapy for allergic asthma, cancer, depression, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and tuberculosis. Scientists believe that exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae may work as an antidepressant because it stimulates the generation of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.M. vaccae is related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Early trials indicated that exposure to M. vaccae would relieve tuberculosis symptoms. However, a 2002 review found no benefit from immunotherapy with M. vaccae in people with tuberculosis. Research as of May 24, 2010 shows that when Mycobacterium vaccae was injected into mice, it stimulated some growth of neurons. It also increased levels of serotonin an decreased levels of anxiety. “We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice,” says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks. ~ GoodNews International Edition
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