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Mrs Nerg or Mrs Gren

Even before we had children I would often think about things that we learnt at school and try and recall the relevant topics or mnemonics. As I noted in this piece about “Gut” by Giulia Enders, “The digestive system, the journey that food makes right through the digestive tract, has been a source of fascination for me since O Level Biology”, and my 9-year-old daughter was introduced to the subject at primary school earlier this year.

Another topic from Biology that came to mind a few years ago is the seven life processes that all living creatures share: growth, motion, respiration and so on, the things that separate us from inanimate objects. For any subject that I learnt at school my first step is to try out my memory first. If that fails my next thought is, “Now, where are my school books? What happened to those notes and essays?” Until the mid-1990s I would have dug out, at the very least, my Biology O-Level Pass Notes, which were never far away. (The Chemistry equivalent is one of the few books I have ever lent to anyone. Not only did the person I lent it to fail to return it, they denied ever having borrowed it. That’s why I never lend or borrow books.) These days of course all the information we require is available without having to leave the computer or go hunting for a book. As a starting-point I still like to test my memory and have been using a mnemonic for some time to remember what the seven life processes are. I found it, inevitably, on the web, possibly here (the Oxford University Museum of Natural History website). As it tells us MRS NERG is an acronym for them: Motion, Respiration, Sensitivity, Nutrition, Excretion, Reproduction and Growth.

My 11-year-old son has been learning about it this month, in his first term at senior school. The mnemonic that they have been using is MRS GREN, the same seven concepts but listed in a different order. We were not taught about either Mrs Gren or Mrs Nerg at school but if we were I’d probably have remembered her through all the intervening years.


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