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AAAS: Brains, asthma, and bedbug sex
This Fab@Home device, from the Computational Synthesis Laboratory at Cornell University, printed a model of an ear and a pinwheel out of silicon during a press briefing. This technology is capable of printing objects out of cartilage.
February 25th, 2011
01:30 PM ET

AAAS: Brains, asthma, and bedbug sex

It's no wonder journalists come from as far away as Sweden, Uganda and Australia to attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. This year's conference, which took place earlier in the week, was a truly special meeting of minds.

There was so much to learn from the scientific sessions, which showcase leading researchers explaining everything from the neuroscience of stuttering to treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder to oral sex leading to oral cancers.

A bionic arm shown at the conference may offer a novel solution for amputees, as well as other interventions for people with movement problems. Being a lover of learning foreign languages, I was intrigued to learn about the brain advantages associated with being bilingual, and research about the neurobiology of criminal behavior generated thoughtful discussion.

In other panels I learned about the search for distant planets, the progress of the Large Hadron Collider, and the legacy of Marie Curie. I also saw a three-dimensional printer, capable of printing a human ear out of cartilage material, in action.

Of course, there wasn't room to write up all of the insights from all of the presentations. Here are a few interesting facts that didn't make it into my coverage:

* Smell and taste receptors have been found in sperm, indicating that these senses are actually integral to the fertilization process, said Gary Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center
* Doctors in different countries strongly disagree about how to diagnose asthma, said David Van Sickle of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
* Criminals who haven't offended in four years showed the same brain abnormalities as chronic offenders, indicated in preliminary results by Dustin Pardini of the University of Pittsburgh, who works on the Pittsburgh Youth Study
* Teens use oral sex as a gateway to vaginal sex, with most having vaginal sex within six months of oral sex, said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher of the University of California, San Francisco

And, of course, there's everything that science journalists talk about at networking events. Within the first minute of meeting a new friend, I learned that bedbugs, which continue to wreak havoc in the U.S. and abroad, mate by "traumatic insemination." In other words, the male bedbug stabs the female's abdomen with his genitals and forcibly injects sperm into her, thus perpetuating new generations of pests. How's that for an ice-breaker! Use that one at your next cocktail party.


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