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Want to Boost Test Scores? Try Eating Dirt

All those gardening projects springing up in elementary schools across the country may be doing children more good than even their teachers suspected. The Science Daily blog reported yesterday that certain bacteria found in soil may actually make you smarter.

According to this article, studies of mycobacterium vaccae, a naturally occurring bacterium that people are thought to ingest or breathe when they dig in the ground, have already shown that it can decrease anxiety levels in mice. (Don't ask me how they figure that out.)

Now a new study suggests that the bacteria may also provide cognitive benefits to the furry little creatures. Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, and her colleague Susan Jenks fed live bacteria to mice and then compared their ability to navigate a maze to that of mice who were not exposed to mycobacterium vaccae. The bacteria-fed mice completed the maze twice as fast, according to the article.

In a second experiment, the researchers also found that mice were slower at negotiating the maze after the bacteria were removed from their diet. The researchers presented their findings this week at the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

Does this mean we should allow our children to eat dirt? That's highly unlikely. These were experiments on mice, after all. But the findings do make me want to go out and dig around in my backyard.

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