Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

Take another breath of that fresh air. It might make you smarter.

Do you know that feeling you get when you're done with work for the day and take those first few steps out the office door?

I always thought that happy, alert sensation was simply the satisfaction of being done with work for the day or feeling the sun on my face. Research, however, suggests it may be all about the bacteria.

Tiny organisms living naturally in the soil and carried in the air can actually make us more positive and alert when ingested or breathed in, say researchers from the Sage Colleges of Troy, N.Y.

At the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego today, scientists presented research that showed a particular bacterium increased learning abilities in mice when ingested. Studies had already shown that the bacterium could increase serotonin levels and decrease anxiety, but the researchers wanted to know if it could improve learning as well as mood.

The team fed Mycobacterium vaccae to a group of mice and compared the animals' ability to navigate a maze to those who had not eaten 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," said Dorothy Matthews in a press release. "Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature."

The researchers tested the mice a couple more times, once after immediately stopping the bacteria meals, and once after three weeks of no bacteria.

During both tests, the experimental mice showed increased performance over the control mice. But by week three, the results weren't statistically significant. Researchers think this could mean the bacteria's effects are temporary.

Just another reason to get out of the office and into the great outdoors.

Image from Flickr.