Conference Review: Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS)
By Laura Speed
The annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) took place on April 14—17, 2019, set in a lush, tropical corner of South West Florida. The conference brings together research focused on understanding the chemical senses—smell, taste, trigeminal irritation, and internal chemoreception—from both academia and industry.
The conference venue: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, Bonita Springs.
I was a first-time attendee at AChemS, having previously only presented at psychology and cognitive science conferences. What struck me as an early career researcher and a newcomer to the field of the chemical senses, was the overall openness and welcoming atmosphere. Attendees were friendly and enthusiastic, and questions asked in talks were genuine and helpful. Perhaps this is one of the many upsides to having a conference in Florida?
The conference was well-structured, combining talks, poster sessions, workshops, and career-focused events. The variety of research covered was impressive, including human and comparative perspectives, ranging from the receptor level up to high-level cognition. Below I describe a number of my highlights.
The conference kicked off with the Givaudan lecture given by Paul Rozin. The audience was captivated by his energetic discussion of the psychology of food and eating. Rozin highlighted how food is a big hole in psychology, with flavor mentioned only twice in a popular psychology textbook. In his lecture he discussed factors to consider when creating a meal, such as temporal and affective features, and I was particularly intrigued by his question about dining out: “do you want a great experience or a great memory of the experience?”
Several talks and symposiums piqued my interest. Johan Lundström presented ground-breaking work on a new non-invasive method to measure olfactory bulb processing. He showed that intensity and pleasantness ratings are related to olfactory bulb activity, with pleasantness the earliest predictor. Polak Award winner Cordelia Running explained the cyclical relationship between diet, spit, and flavor: diet and dietary context (in this case polyphenol-containing chocolate) can influence the expression of proteins in saliva, which can subsequently affect flavor (in this case bitterness). Maria Veldhuizen organized a provocative symposium questioning whether the chemical senses belong to intero- (internal states of the body) or exteroception (perception of stimuli outside the body). Several pieces of evidence presented point to an overlap in gustatory and interoceptive processing. For example, converging evidence suggests integration of gustatory and interoceptive cues in the insular cortex: Renee Hartig found shared representations in the insular cortex of the macaque, and using an elegant fMRI adaptation paradigm, Jason Avery found multimodal neurons in the insular that respond to both gustation and interoception
On the second day of the conference I took part in the “Hands-On Workshop” organized by Thomas Hummel and NOSE’s Sanne Boesveldt. Here we had the unique opportunity to meet four experts and learn first-hand about methods in the study of the chemical senses: odor identification (Thomas Hummel), taste detection threshold (Kathrin Ohla), sniff magnitude (Katherine Whitcroft), and odor nostril localization (Johannes Frasnelli). I also attended the career panel/networking event. In this session, career-related questions were directed to a panel of experts who had differing journeys to their academic positions. Following the panel sessions, we could interact with the panelists over food and drink. This was a great chance to talk in-depth about career experiences, and discuss openly about the difficulties and worries early career researchers might have.
Of course, NOSE was well-represented at the conference. As well as organizing the Hands-On Workshop, Sanne Boesveldt chaired a symposium on fat perception and its dietary consequences, and had a poster exploring the effect of multisensory cues on saliva secretion and composition (with first author Paulina Morquecho Campos). Also in the poster session, Ilja Croijmans presented exciting results that suggest training to be a wine expert can improve multisensory imagery of wine, Jasper de Groot outlined his work on the communication of fear in body odor, and Daan van Nieuwenburg (with Jasper de Groot and Monique Smeets) described the power of odor (hexanal) in the social signaling of trust. Finally, I was part of the symposium “Can we talk about smells?” organized by Valentina Parma and Jonas Olofsson. In this session, Jonas Olofsson, Francesca Franzon, Theresa White, and myself, addressed the hot topic of the language of smell. Together we presented neuroscientific, behavioral, and corpus research assessing how language and odor are connected. I described behavioral work that suggests odor language comprehension is not grounded in olfactory perception, challenging theories of embodied language.
Overall, my visit to AChemS was extremely enjoyable and rewarding. AChemS is an excellent conference to attend to learn about a wide variety of research related to the chemical senses, in an open and positive environment (with some sunshine and palm trees thrown in). To learn more about the event, please visit the website https://achems.org/2019/
NOSE members on the final day of the conference.