Brainiac bacteria

Leaving your children outside to play in the dirt could increase their learning abilities. This is according to new research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego. Dorothy Matthews and her colleague Susan Jenks conducted an experiment where they exposed mice to the bacteria known as Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae).

Matthews explained that previous studies showed that M. vaccae injected into mice stimulated growth of some neurons in the brain; this  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.
In their experiment they had two groups of mice. They fed the one group M. vassae and kept to a regular diet with the other group. The mice fed with bacteria were able to navigate a maze much faster than the mice not exposed to the bacteria.
In a second experiment Matthews removed the bacteria. The mice still completed the maze faster than the regular mice but the results were not as outstanding. Matthews explains her experiment showed that the bacteria had a temporary effect on the mice and, as time went by and they were not exposed to the bacteria, they were unable to perform as well as when they were exposed to it.
Matthews said this research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals.
“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,” she said.

News source: Mooivaal Media – Vaalweekblad