Mama Glia [poem]
by Greg Crowther
This was written as a Mother's Day poem ... but it has also occasionally proven useful in Biology 241 and Biology 351.
I am a neuron -- a nerve cell.
I sense and respond to stimuli.
I am electric; I am excitable.
Charges flow into me and out of me,
Into me and out of me.
I ping my neighbors,
Sometimes thousands of them,
With terse, transient messages --
A never-ending stream of micro-updates:
Pressure, sharpness, pain, OUCH, more pain . . .
OK, all clear now.
How do I keep this up?
Who sends me nutrients
And sequesters my waste?
Who protects my axon
With a blanket of insulation?
And how did I get here in the first place?
Who provided scaffolding to follow?
And that one time when I was badly cut,
Who nursed me with growth factors
Until I was, once again, whole?
My glia, that’s who --
The Greek word for “glue.”
Songs like this one can be used during class meetings and/or in homework assignments. Either way, the song will be most impactful if students DO something with it, as opposed to just listening.
An initial, simple follow-up activity could be to answer the study questions below. A more extensive interaction with the song might entail (A) learning to sing it, using an audio file and/or sheet music as a guide, and/or (B) designing kinesthetic movements ("dance moves") to embody it. The latter activity could begin with students identifying the most important or most challenging content of the song, and deciding how to illustrate that particular content.
(1) Based on the poem, write down several distinct functions played by glial cells.
(2) Not all of these functions are executed by the same cells. List the different subtypes of glial cells within the central nervous system (CNS).
(3) The original definition of glia -- as the "glue" of the nervous system -- is now considered misleading by neuroscientists. Why?
(Answers may be found on the answers page.)