A new way to prepare for Micro Exams

This photomicrograph reveals Mycobacterium tub...

Eat more Bacteria! Image via Wikipedia

Nick Altland (got a 4 in BIO230, Spring 2010, so you know he knows what he’s talking about) has suggested a double-blind, case control study that he thinks might be helpful for YCP Nursing students in Microbiology. He came across an article via phys.org about a study presented at the annual meeting for the American Society of Microbiology, and posted the link for me to find on my wall on Facebook. He has suggested that breathing dirt might be an effective study strategy. I of course wanted to find out more!

In this article, with the provacative title “Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?” researchers at the Sage Colleges in New York examined the effects of a common soil bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, which is likely inhaled fairly commonly by all of us. My quick search of Pubmed indicates that  M. vaccae does not cause any significant human disease, but has had a fair amount of interest due to its ability to intensify an immune response when used as an adjuvant. Adjuvants are compounds that are added to vaccines that increase the ability of the vaccine components to promote  effective, long-lasting protection.

In this study, researchers fed M. vaccae to mice and studied their abilities to navigate mazes in comparison to control animals not fed the bacterium. What they found was that mice fed the bacterium were able to navigate the maze twice as quickly, and also demonstrated far less anxiety (I have no idea how you can assess whether a mouse is nervous or not–what does he do, twitch his leg nervously?) than the control mice. Following the experimental regime, the mice were switched back to normal mouse chow with no added bacteria, and they found that their maze navigating skills diminished, but not back down to control levels. Final experiments conducted 3 weeks later showed that the improvements were temporary; after this time without the bacteria, mice performed in the maze test comparable to the control mice, and likely were just as nervous as the control mice as well. These studies were prompted by earlier work in which heat-killed M. vaccae was injected into mice promoted the growth of some brain cells, as well as increased the levels of some neurotransmitters.

I have tried to find a publication for this study outside of this meeting presentation, but have not located anything. The most relevant article appears to be this opinion piece, but alas my Spanish is very poor. I can infer from the title though that there is a fair amount of skepticism, which I can certainly agree with. I would suggest that Micro students stick with the tried and true study techniques for preparing for Micro exams: study regularly and often, read your textbook, take good notes as you read, do not text while Prof. Singleton is talking, and ask questions in class! I do not think that anyone should rely on breathing dirt for an easy A!


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 4, 2011, in In the air tonight, Lecture, Strange but True. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Not that I would ever sniff dirt to achieve the desired 4.0 for class, but this article made me think of news I heard about chewing gum. Is there any truth to chewing gum during class improves test scores?

  2. Via the Los Angeles Times, originally from the FASEB national conference in 2009: a 3% higher standardized math score, and an overall improvement in final math grades among 108 students age 13-16 in a non-blinded study. No mechanism identified other than the tenuous conjecture “demonstrating an increase in blood flow in the brain during chewing”.

    I am skeptical, particularly since the study was sponsored by the Wrigley Science Institute, which I do not think is the science arm of the Chicago Cubs.

  3. Danielle Piperato

    I don’t know of any specific studies, but I have heard that sucking on a piece of mint candy increases attention span in class and helps with learning. I’m not sure how true this really is or if it’s just in people’s heads, I do know some teachers give their students mint candies though.

    • It could be a phenomenon related in principle to the gum-chewing citation I found above, and the added glucose boost could also have positive benefits. I would recommend that you approach the Mentos Science Institute for grant money!

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