Science-- there's something for everyone

Friday, June 11, 2010

Playing in the dirt can make you smarter

Dorothy Matthews and Susan Jenks of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York have found that a common soil bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) can help mice navigate mazes more quickly.

Previous studies have shown that when mice are injected with killed M. vaccae, their serotonin levels rise and they exhibit neural growth. Because serotonin is known to affect learning, Matthews and Jenks tried feeding live M. vaccae to mice and testing their ability to run mazes.

Mice on M. vaccae navigated mazes twice as fast as their non-bacteria eating cohorts. When weaned from the bacteria, the mice slowly lost their advantage over controls.

If this effect translates to humans, the conclusion is clear: make sure kids have plenty of time to play outside, preferably making mud pies.