What survived was being open to or game for the encounter and all that
might be unbearable about it.
—Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman, Sex, or The Unbearable
In January 2014 two researchers from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic
Centre at the University of Cork published a short article in the pop u lar
science magazine New Scientist about “the mind- altering effects of gut
bacteria” (Cryan and Dinan 2014, 28). Certain kinds of gut bacteria, they
claim, may have a beneficial effect on mood. When mice were treated
chronically with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus they showed fewer
behavioral and biochemical signs of stress. The mechanism of this in-
fluence is unclear, but the researchers hypothesize that some bacteria—
psychobacteria, they call them— regulate the neurotransmitter gaba
via the vagus nerve (which connects the gut and the brain). gaba has
an inhibitory effect on the mammalian ner vous system; by changing
how gaba is expressed in the brain these gut bacteria are thought to
have an anxiolytic (destressing) effect on the animals tested in these
studies. John Cryan and Timothy Dinan hedge their bets about the con-
sequences of such research. On the one hand, these data raise the
possibility “of unlocking new ways to treat neurobehavioural disorders
such as depression and obsessive- compulsive disorder” (2014, 28). On
the other hand, “we are still a long way from the development of clini-
cally proven psychobiotics and it remains to be seen whether they are
capable of acting like—or perhaps even replacing— antidepressants”
(2014, 29).
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