Friday, January 15, 2016

Mycobacterium vaccae

They say that everyone gets their fix. There is always that one thing that gives you a burst of satisfaction, of happiness. Everyone has their thing, whether it be exercise, food, religion, alcohol, drugs, tinkering, whatever. We all need that little burst of serotonin to stave off depression.

For some people, though, being outside, specifically in nature, is the drug of choice. There is even a group on Facebook called Gardenoholics Anonymous. This time of year, they mostly talk about pouring over seed catalogs with longing. The rest of the year, they wax poetic about the wonders of dirty hands and conquered weeds. We have all known the outdoor enthusiasts, as well. The ones who couldn't imagine a weekend without camping and go for a hike in the nearby wooded area almost daily. I have known lots of both kinds and have noticed that overall, they tend to be a pretty happy lot. But what if the key to happiness for both groups is the same? What if they are getting their high from an all-natural source?

It turns out that they just might be doing just that. Scientists have discovered a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae. M. vaccae has been shown to trigger the release of serotonin in the brain when live bacteria are inhaled. Scientists aren't quite sure why just yet, but the results of studies have been undeniable. And the release of serotonin is significant enough that it is referred to as antidepressant. Is it harmful? It doesn't appear to be even a little harmful. It might actually be very beneficial. Is it addictive? Well, probably. Just about anything that can trigger the release of serotonin is potentially addictive. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Exercise can be addictive.

So, you might ask, this sounds like some pretty good stuff. Where might I get some? It turns out that M. vaccae is a bacteria that commonly occurs in healthy, living soil just about everywhere in the world. It also tends to aerosolize easily, becoming suspended in the air we breathe with minimal disturbance of the soil. Cool stuff, right?

Now do me a favor, please. Scroll back up and look at the top of the page. What is this blog called? Mad Bioneer, right? So you KNOW we aren't going to leave well enough alone. Now that we know something new, how can we use it? There is an air filter some brilliant soul (no, it wasn't me) invented several years ago called the Andrea Air Purifier. It puts a plant inside a clear plastic case, with vents at the top. Air is pulled down through the vents, over the plant, down through the soil, over a water source, and then through the fan that pulls it all through and back out into the room. Not only does the plant help purify the air, but the soil helps as well, through both filtration and microbial action in the soil.

What if we were to modify this wonderful piece of technology just a little. First we find out what the M. vaccae uses as a food source in the soil and make sure there is plenty of it. We get the soil good and alive. But with just a few design and maintenance tweaks, the air wouldn't just filter out the bad stuff. It could also be used to load the air inside a building with all that wonderful M. vaccae goodness. You get the wonderful benefit of breathable, healthy antidepressant filling your home.

But who is to say we need to stop at home? Want people to come to your coffee shop? Get them addicted to the antidepressants you pump into the air! The uses are endless. But the benefits, if something like this were to be put into widespread use, would be to increase happiness on a broad scale. How awesome would that be?


  1. A combination of exercise and sunlight (vit D) would possibly give this effect? Still, interesting and another reason to encourage people outdoors.

  2. ^^Anonymous, you can check out some pubmed articles on studies in mice, as well as uses for treatment in drug-resistant tuberculosis (which is in the same genus mycobacteriaceae) !! Good point though, great stuff!