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Grossology: The Science of the Disgusting

Kids and adults learn how and why the body does those yucky things it does - like pooping, farting, belching, and making snot.
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"Sometimes it's stinky. Sometimes it's crusty. And sometimes it's slimy. But hey, it's your body," writes Sylvia Branzei, author of the book, Grossology: The Science of Really Gross Things.

The book has become a cultural phenomenon, translated into Japanese, Korean, Bulgarian, Spanish, and French. A Grossology museum exhibition is also touring; it's an interactive biology lesson featuring boogers, burps, poop, snot, scabs, spit, farts, and body odors.

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"I realized a long time ago that you have to get kids' attention, and children have an affinity for disgusting stuff," says Branzei, who spent many years as a science teacher (kindergarten through high school) in California.

"The goal is really to teach science, not gross anybody out," Branzei tells WebMD. "But the grossness is definitely the hook."

Farts, after all, are cool to kids. "So is poop," Branzei notes. "I think I'm normal, but maybe not -- I always look at my poop. Yet one woman told me she never looks at hers. The take-home lesson is that what you excrete tells you whole lot about yourself and your diet. The color of what you excrete is super important. My poop and snot probably look different from other people's. People need a baseline ... they need to look at their stuff, so they can tell when it changes."

The exhibit and book focus on "the everyday disgusting stuff," she explains. "So it's the 'eeewww' factor combined with the 'this-is-familiar' factor - so we can teach anatomy and physiology and health science. The hope is that if they learn more about their bodies, then they'll be inclined to take better care of themselves."

"It's totally like the Fear Factor TV show, but with biology behind it," says Sharon Horesh, MD, instructor of clinical medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The best biology teacher teaches you things you remember, and always answers the 'why' questions ... the questions about biology that most people don't know the answers to."

Vomit

"Puking is pretty important for your body," writes Branzei. "It gets rid of the stuff that your body thinks could be dangerous to you. In fact, throwing up is so important that there is part of the brain called the vomit center that causes this uncontrollable act. Once the vomit center goes into action, you cannot help but let loose."

Indeed, the act of vomiting has many triggers. It eliminates anything that bothers the stomach's lining - excess food or drink, poisonous substances, bacteria, or viruses. If your inner ear canal is unbalanced, as happens during sailing and driving, the brain's vomit center gets an alert. Hormone changes during early pregnancy trigger the vomit response. Anything unpleasant can prompt you to vomit.

"Those are the natural reactions," Horesh says. "They're either protective functions or body quirks."

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