M. vaccae, the Mirthy Dirty Microbe

Flora and Fauna Fridays

The life of our estuary and watershed.

mycobacterium vaccae

by Erik Baard

People who play in the dirt are happier. We certainly see that at HarborLAB’s GreenLaunch where we’re growing a native habitat area, a small orchard, and fruiting vines. The greenery, fascinating and beautiful wildlife, satisfaction of helping things grow, and great company all make for a sense of connection and more fully realized life. Every participant in nature and our work crews contributes, right down to the microbes. That’s especially true of Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium in compost and healthy soil that stimulates the production of mood-lifting neurotransmitters.

M. vaccae was first found in Austrian cow dung (hence the “vaccae” name) but is quite widespread. Scientists studied the microbe in hopes that this cousin of tuberculosis might reveal tricks for fighting the dreaded disease. Dr. Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at Royal Marsden Hospital in London, made a serum with the goal of improving lung cancer patients’ immune systems. Instead it improved their emotional states. They felt less pain. They felt happier. Further British research found a similar effect in mice. Over here in New York, scientists found ingestion, inhalation, and daily contact provided the same benefits. No injection necessary. The mice were less stressed and learned their way through mazes faster when “on” M. vaccae.

United Nation’s International Day of Happiness is March 20 and April is Mental Health Awareness Month. Maybe spend some time in the dirt at HarborLAB’s GreenLaunch this April to get to know this bright yellow bug of joy.   🙂

To garden with us, please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject “GreenLaunch gardening.” To have us conduct seedball workshops or other greening programs with your school, community center, youth group, or other service, please email edu@harborlab.org.





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