Sage Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Bacterium in Soil that May Make You Sharper and Calmer
Photo (L to R) Dr. Susan Jenks
and Dr. Dorothy Matthews.
ALBANY & TROY, NY – The Sage Colleges were recently awarded a $10,000 grant from The Bender Scientific Fund of The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region to further study the effects of non-pathogenic bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) on mice. In studies already conducted, Dr. Susan Jenks, professor of biology and psychology, Dr. Dorothy Matthews, professor of biology, and their team of Sage student researchers found that the soil bacterium, M. vaccae, when fed to mice influenced their anxiety behaviors and maze learning.
“The mechanism of this effect is likely an immune system reaction to the bacterium, which then stimulates the production of a neurotransmitter, serotonin,” explains Jenks. “Serotonin is important in calming anxiety and produces positive effects on general emotional well-being.”
The team will use the grant to further investigate the effect of this bacterium on anxiety-related behaviors and learning in mice by examining developmental effects transferred from mothers to their offspring. Jenks and Matthews predict that the offspring of mothers fed M. vaccae before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and during lactation will show reduced anxiety behaviors when placed in standard behavioral tests of anxiety, and will also show increased learning in a complex maze. They also predict that the effect will be long-lasting.
The funding will enable them to employ state-of-the-art video behavioral tracking and analysis technology. “The research may make a significant contribution to understanding the influence of exposure to non-pathogenic bacteria on the development of the immune system, stress response, and behavioral well-being,” concludes Jenks. "In the long-term, such research may benefit humans by helping us to understand how these bacterium interact with the mammalian immune system in general, and during development, with subsequent effects on stress response and cognition."
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