Play in the dirt to boost your IQ

On May 24, researchers presented new findings linking ability to learn and relax to dirt at the American Society for Microbiology ‘s 110th General Meeting in San Diego.


Dorothy Matthews, PhD, biology professor at The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York and Susan Jenks, PhD, associate professor of biology and psychology at The Sage Colleges conducted a series of research studies, initially finding that Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae), "a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breathe in when they spend time in nature," in an animal study "resulted in increased levels of serotonin and decreased anxiety."

Matthews then became curious to test if M. vaccae could impact learning based on increased levels of serotonin so the researchers monitored two groups of mice, one after ingesting the "live bacteria" and the other not exposed to M. vaccae, maneuver a maze immediately.

"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 Matthews. However the benefits proved not be long-lasting after monitoring the same mice run the maze without being given additional bacteria hours later and then three-weeks later.

Matthews concluded, "This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," adding that it could be interesting to consider "creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present" to possibly "decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."

Until urban schools start trucking in country soil, this is just another reason to start a family garden, even if it is a series of window boxes. There have also been studies showing M. vaccae can help wash the blues away - maybe a new project for Harvard professor David Edwards, who could create a new flavor: Le Whif dirt, a lipstick-shaped inhaler that would delivers tiny sprinkles of a breathable dirt like he has with chocolate and coffee.

For more information on the American Society for Microbiology ‘s 110th General Meeting, visit: