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How Bacteria Can Improve Intelligence

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 10 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Intelligence Bacteria Improve Boost

Bacteria may not be what you think about when it comes to intelligence. But a new study has taken another look at bacteria and how our exposure to certain kinds could boost intelligence.

Benefits from Bacteria Exposure

It seems that when people are exposed to a very specific kind of bacteria found in our environment that has antidepressant qualities, learning behaviour could be enhanced. A team of microbiologists has been investigating just how this might occur.

When you are outdoors, tiny bacteria are breathed in or ingested. The bacteria live naturally in places such as soil and get carried into the air. Once we are exposed, we could become more alert and perform better.

Antidepressant Qualities in Bacteria

When you spend time in nature, you are likely going to ingest or breath in bacteria. One kind known as Mycobacterium viccae has shown in earlier studies that when heat-killed and injected into mice, it trigger growth of neurons leading to higher levels of serotonin.

There was also the effect of anxiety being lowered. Given the important role of serotonin in learning, it made sense to investigate how the bacteria when live might improve the learning in mice.

Testing Out Live Bacteria

To see if this theory would prove true, researchers fed mice live bacteria. Then, they looked at the ability of the mice to navigate a maze compared to mice that did not receive the bacteria. They also tested out the abilities of mice several weeks later to see if the effect was temporary or would show lasting benefits.

Faster and Smarter Mice

Compared to the mice that didn’t get the bacteria, they were able to navigate the maze twice as fast and with less anxiety. For part two of the experiment, researchers used the experimental mice but didn’t feed them the bacteria. They found that they were slower than when they had received the bacteria but were still faster than the mice that never received it.

Do the Effects of the Bacteria Last?

For the final test, researchers wanted to see what effect time had on the mice. Three weeks later they had those experimental mice try the maze again. Even though they were a bit faster, it wasn’t enough to be what is considered statistically significant. This unfortunately means the results of the bacteria were mostly temporary.

Real World Applications

Exposure to live bacteria seems to be able to enhance learning for new tasks while also lowering the anxiety experienced with it. Researchers think that in a situation where, for instance, children in school played outside where the bacteria are present, there is potential to improve learning. But of course, we are a long way off from being able to recommend that people ingest bacteria for better intelligence.

Spending Time Outdoors

Still, while it is still far too early to see where the research might translate to any kind of treatment or marketable enhancement, it is an interesting study. For some, it might just be the encouragement they need to take a break from the office and get some additional time outdoors.

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