Great Jobs #5372

I was just reading the Economist*. Specifically, I was reading a hugely self-improving article about how bacteria make you happy. I think I was, anyway; I may just be recalling one of those yoghurt drink adverts infesting late night television. Anyway, a particular bit leapt off the page, and I share it with you now:

Dr Lowry and his team injected their mice with M. vaccae and examined them to find out what was going on. First, they looked for a rise in the level of cytokines, which are molecules produced by the immune system that trigger responses in the brain. As expected, cytokine levels rose. They then looked directly in their animals’ brains for the effect of those cytokines. Cytokines actually act on sensory nerves that run to the brain from organs such as the heart and the lungs. That action stimulates a brain structure called the dorsal raphe nucleus. It was this nucleus that Dr Lowry focused on. He found a group of cells within it that connect directly to the limbic system, the brain’s emotion-generating area. These cells release serotonin into the limbic system in response to sensory-nerve stimulation. The consequence of that release is stress-free mice. Dr Lowry was able to measure their stress by dropping them into a tiny swimming pool.

I’m sure several of you will already have spotted the bit that appealed to me. Here it is again:

Dr Lowry was able to measure their stress by dropping them into a tiny swimming pool.

I can’t help feeling that these scientists are missing the wood for the trees. Here they are, trying to determine the root causes of human happiness. I salute them for this: great work, no doubt, and vital to our continued wellbeing. But to focus on bacteria levels, when such an immense source of happiness is right under their noses? No wonder the narrow-minded and obsessive stereotype of boffins persists in the media. You keep swilling your pro-vita-biotic yoghurt drinks, Mr so-called Scientist. I shall be dropping mice into tiny swimming pools once a morning. We’ll see who ends up happier.


* actually their website; I used to read the magazine on the tube, but became self-conscious about subtly advertising myself as a shameless free marketeer hell-bent on the repression of the urban poor. Now I wear an Adam Smith face mask and shouldercharge the less competent buskers, then run away burning fivers. Subtlety is overrated, I think.

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