Free Online Biology Courses
If you're fascinated by life, and the science of its origins, structure, and evolution, then these free online biology courses could be a good fit for you. Whether your interests lie with animals, plants, or the chemistry that underlies them all, there's bound to be a course here to boost your knowledge and feed your interest.
In this class, we will examine cholesterol's role in the cell and in the body as a whole, from its function as a structural component of the membrane to its function in signaling. We will discuss mechanisms of cholesterol sensing, mechanisms of feedback regulation in cells, cholesterol in the brain, cholesterol in the circulation, 'good cholesterol' and 'bad cholesterol,' cholesterol-related human disorders, and the drugs that deal with some of these disorders.
The lethal poison Ricin (best known as a weapon of bioterrorism), Diphtheria toxin (the causative agent of a highly contagious bacterial disease), and the widely used antibiotic tetracycline have one thing in common: They specifically target the cell's translational apparatus and disrupt protein synthesis. In this course, we will explore the mechanisms of action of toxins and antibiotics, their roles in everyday medicine, and the emergence and spread of drug resistance. We will also discuss the identification of new drug targets and how we can manipulate the protein synthesis machinery to provide powerful tools for protein engineering and potential new treatments for patients with devastating diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.
In this class we will learn about how the process of DNA replication is regulated throughout the cell cycle and what happens when DNA replication goes awry. How does the cell know when and where to begin replicating its DNA? How does a cell prevent its DNA from being replicated more than once? How does damaged DNA cause the cell to arrest DNA replication until that damage has been repaired? And how is the duplication of the genome coordinated with other essential processes? We will examine both classical and current papers from the scientific literature to provide answers to these questions and to gain insights into how biologists have approached such problems.
Biological Chemistry II - MIT
This course deals with a more advanced treatment of the biochemical mechanisms that underlie biological processes. Emphasis will be given to the experimental methods used to unravel how these processes fit into the cellular context as well as the coordinated regulation of these processes. Topics include macromolecular machines for energy and force transduction, regulation of biosynthetic and degradative pathways, and the structure and function of nucleic acids.
Imagine you are a salesman needing to visit 100 cities connected by a set of roads. Can you do it while stopping in each city only once? Even a supercomputer working at 1 trillion operations per second would take longer than the age of the universe to find a solution when considering each possibility in turn. In 1994, Leonard Adleman published a paper in which he described a solution, using the tools of molecular biology, for a smaller 7-city example of this problem. His paper generated enormous scientific and public interest, and kick-started the field of Biological Computing, the main subject of this discussion based seminar course. Students will analyze the Adleman paper, and the papers that preceded and followed it, with an eye for identifying the engineering and scientific aspects of each paper, emphasizing the interplay of these two approaches in the field of Biological Computing. This course is appropriate for both biology and non-biology majors. Care will be taken to fill in any knowledge gaps for both scientists and engineers.
Brightening up Life: Harnessing the Power of Fluorescence Imaging to Observe Biology in Action - MIT
One summer in the 1960s a young Japanese researcher, with the help of a few high school students, chopped up ten thousand jellyfish. As a by-product of this harvest, they isolated a green fluorescent protein (GFP). Since then, GFP has triggered a revolution in our understanding of gene expression and signaling in live cells. In this seminar, we will examine how this small protein generates fluorescence, i.e. absorbs light of one wavelength and emits light of a longer wavelength. We will discuss how the color palette has been extended from green to blue, red and many other colors, based on protein engineering of GFP and the study of vividly colorful coral reefs. We will then investigate how these fluorescent proteins can be used to track the motion of DNA, RNA and protein in living cells, as well as to see waves of signaling molecules propagate across a cell. GFP is also a powerful tool for fluorescent imaging of whole organisms, from worms to mice, and we will see how it has been used in tracking the spread of cancer cells, controlling malaria and in understanding how neuronal connections form. In this seminar, we will explore this wonderful protein as well as other important methods and reagents for fluorescent imaging.
In 1971, President Nixon declared the "War on Cancer," but after three decades the war is still raging. How much progress have we made toward winning the war and what are we doing to improve the fight? Understanding the molecular and cellular events involved in tumor formation, progression, and metastasis is crucial to the development of innovative therapy for cancer patients. Insights into these processes have been gleaned through basic research using biochemical, molecular, and genetic analysis in yeast, C. elegans, mice, and cell culture models. We will explore the laboratory tools and techniques used to perform cancer research, major discoveries in cancer biology, and the medical implications of these breakthroughs. A focus of the class will be critical analysis of the primary literature to foster understanding of the strengths and limitations of various approaches to cancer research. Special attention will be made to the clinical implications of cancer research performed in model organisms and the prospects for ending the battle with this devastating disease.
Cell Biology - MIT
This course deals with the biology of cells of higher organisms: The structure, function, and biosynthesis of cellular membranes and organelles; cell growth and oncogenic transformation; transport, receptors, and cell signaling; the cytoskeleton, the extracellular matrix, and cell movements; chromatin structure and RNA synthesis.
Cellular Neurobiology - MIT
This course serves as an introduction to the structure and function of the nervous system. Emphasis is placed on the cellular properties of neurons and other excitable cells. Topics covered include the structure and biophysical properties of excitable cells, synaptic transmission, neurochemistry, neurodevelopment, and the integration of information in simple systems and the visual system.
In this course we will explore the new emerging field of pathogen-induced chronic diseases. Work in this field has redefined the causes of some major disorders, such as ulcers. By reading the primary research literature we will learn about the molecular mechanisms through which pathogens cause disease. The diseases that we cover will be introduced with a short patient case study. We will discuss the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and gastric disease, HPV and cervical cancer, hepatitis C virus and liver disease, Epstein-Barr virus and lymphoma, Cytomegalovirus and atherosclerosis, as well as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. We will study technical advances in the fight against microbes and explore future directions for new treatment strategies of chronic infections and inflammation.
Do you like teaching, but find yourself frustrated by how little students seem to learn? Would you like to try teaching, but are nervous about whether you will be any good at it? Are you interested in new research on science education? Research in science education shows that the greatest obstacle to student learning is the failure to identify and confront the misconceptions with which the students enter the class or those that they acquire during their studies. This weekly seminar course focuses on developing the participants' ability to uncover and confront student misconceptions and to foster student understanding and retention of key concepts. Participants read primary literature on science education, uncover basic concepts often overlooked when teaching biology, and lead a small weekly discussion session for students currently enrolled in introductory biology classes.
How does a regenerating animal "know" what's missing? How are stem cells or differentiated cells used to create new tissues during regeneration? In this class we will take a comparative approach to explore this fascinating problem by critically examining classic and modern scientific literature about the developmental and molecular biology of regeneration. We will learn about conserved developmental pathways that are necessary for regeneration, and we will discuss the relevance of these findings for regenerative medicine.
Developmental Biology - MIT
This graduate and advanced undergraduate level lecture and literature discussion course covers the current understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate animal development. Evolutionary mechanisms are emphasized as well as the discussion of relevant diseases. Vertebrate (mouse, chick, frog, fish) and invertebrate (fly, worm) models are covered. Specific topics include formation of early body plan, cell type determination, organogenesis, morphogenesis, stem cells, cloning, and issues in human development.
Directed evolution has been used to produce enzymes with many unique properties. The technique of directed evolution comprises two essential steps: mutagenesis of the gene encoding the enzyme to produce a library of variants, and selection of a particular variant based on its desirable catalytic properties. In this course we will examine what kinds of enzymes are worth evolving and the strategies used for library generation and enzyme selection. We will focus on those enzymes that are used in the synthesis of drugs and in biotechnological applications.
We will cover fundamentals of ecology, considering Earth as an integrated dynamic system. Topics include coevolution of the biosphere, geosphere, atmosphere and oceans; photosynthesis and respiration; the hydrologic, carbon and nitrogen cycles. We will examine the flow of energy and materials through ecosystems; regulation of the distribution and abundance of organisms; structure and function of ecosystems, including evolution and natural selection; metabolic diversity; productivity; trophic dynamics; models of population growth, competition, mutualism and predation. This course is designated as Communication-Intensive; instruction and practice in oral and written communication provided. Biology is a recommended prerequisite.
In this course, evolutionary pathways that have led to the development of innate and adaptive immunity are analyzed, the conserved and unique features of the immune response from bacteria to higher vertebrates is traced, and factors, such as adaptive changes in pathogens that have shaped the evolution of immune system are identified.
This course is the scientific communications portion of course 7.02, Experimental Biology and Communication. Students develop their skills as writers of scientific research, skills that also contribute to the learning of the 7.02 course materials. Through in class and out of class writing exercises, students explore the genre of the research article and its components while developing an understanding of the materials covered in the 7.02 laboratory.
This introductory biology laboratory course covers the application of experimental techniques in microbiology, biochemistry, cell and developmental biology. Emphasis is placed on the integration of factual knowledge with understanding of the design of the experiments and data analysis in order to prepare the students for future research projects. Development of skills critical for writing about scientific findings in modern biology is also covered in the Scientific Communications portion of the curriculum, 7.02CI.
In this class, students engage in independent research projects to probe various aspects of the physiology of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA14, an opportunistic pathogen isolated from the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. Students use molecular genetics to examine survival in stationary phase, antibiotic resistance, phase variation, toxin production, and secondary metabolite production. Projects aim to discover the molecular basis for these processes using both classical and cutting-edge techniques. These include plasmid manipulation, genetic complementation, mutagenesis, PCR, DNA sequencing, enzyme assays, and gene expression studies. Instruction and practice in written and oral communication are also emphasized.
The course applies molecular biology and reverse genetics approaches to the study of apoptosis, or programmed cell death (PCD), in Drosophila cells. RNA interference (RNAi), or double stranded RNA-mediated gene silencing, will be used to inhibit expression of candidate apoptosis-related genes in cultured Drosophila cells. Teams of 2 or 3 students will design and carry out experiments to address questions about the genes involved in the regulation and execution of PCD in this system. Some projects involve the use of DNA damaging agents or other cytotoxic chemicals or drugs to help understand the pathways that control a cell's decision to undergo apoptosis. Instruction and practice in written and oral communication are provided.
Serving as an introduction to computational biology, this course emphasizes the fundamentals of nucleic acid and protein sequence analysis, structural analysis, and the analysis of complex biological systems. The principles and methods used for sequence alignment, motif finding, structural modeling, structure prediction, and network modeling are covered. Students are also exposed to currently emerging research areas in the fields of computational and systems biology.
How do we communicate with the outside world? How are our senses of vision, smell, taste and pain controlled at the cellular and molecular levels? What causes medical conditions like allergies, hypertension, depression, obesity and various central nervous system disorders? G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) provide a major part of the answer to all of these questions. GPCRs constitute the largest family of cell-surface receptors and in humans are encoded by more than 1,000 genes. GPCRs convert extracellular messages into intracellular responses and are involved in essentially all physiological processes. GPCR dysfunction results in numerous human disorders, and over 50% of all prescription drugs on the market today directly or indirectly target GPCRs. In this course, we will discuss GPCR signal transduction pathways, GPCR oligomerization and the diseases caused by GPCR dysfunction. We will study the structure and function of rhodopsin, a dim-light photoreceptor and a well-studied GPCR that converts light into electric impulses sent to the brain and leads to vision. We will also discuss how mutations in rhodopsin cause retinal degeneration and congenital night blindness.
Genetics - MIT
This course discusses the principles of genetics with application to the study of biological function at the level of molecules, cells, and multicellular organisms, including humans. The topics include: structure and function of genes, chromosomes and genomes, biological variation resulting from recombination, mutation, and selection, population genetics, use of genetic methods to analyze protein function, gene regulation and inherited disease.
Graduate Biochemistry - MIT
The tools and analytical methods that biochemists use to dissect biological problems. Analysis of the mode of action and structure of regulatory, binding, and catalytic proteins.
Every infection consists of a battle between the invading pathogen and the resisting host. To be successful, a pathogen must escape the many defenses of the host immune system until it can replicate and spread to another host. A pathogen must prevent one of three stages of immune function: detection, activation, or effector function. Examples of disease-specific immune evasion and the mechanisms used by pathogens to prevail over their hosts' immune systems are discussed. Also considered is what these host-pathogen interactions reveal about the normal function of the immune system and basic cell biological processes, such as protein maturation and degradation.
Bioengineering at MIT is represented by the diverse curricula offered by most Departments in the School of Engineering. This course samples the wide variety of bioengineering options for students who plan to major in one of the undergraduate Engineering degree programs. The beginning lectures describe the science basis for bioengineering with particular emphasis on molecular cell biology and systems biology. Bioengineering faculty will then describe the bioengineering options in a particular engineering course as well as the type of research conducted by faculty in the department.
Introduction to Biology - MIT
The MIT Biology Department core courses, 7.012, 7.013, and 7.014, all cover the same core material, which includes the fundamental principles of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and cell biology. Biological function at the molecular level is particularly emphasized and covers the structure and regulation of genes, as well as, the structure and synthesis of proteins, how these molecules are integrated into cells, and how these cells are integrated into multicellular systems and organisms. In addition, each version of the subject has its own distinctive material. 7.012 focuses on the exploration of current research in cell biology, immunology, neurobiology, genomics, and molecular medicine.
Introductory Biology - MIT
The MIT Biology Department core courses, 7.012, 7.013, and 7.014, all cover the same core material, which includes the fundamental principles of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and cell biology. Biological function at the molecular level is particularly emphasized and covers the structure and regulation of genes, as well as, the structure and synthesis of proteins, how these molecules are integrated into cells, and how these cells are integrated into multicellular systems and organisms. In addition, each version of the subject has its own distinctive material. 7.013 focuses on the application of the fundamental principles toward an understanding of human biology. Topics include genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, disease (infectious agents, inherited diseases and cancer), developmental biology, neurobiology and evolution.
Molecular Biology - MIT
This course covers a detailed analysis of the biochemical mechanisms that control the maintenance, expression, and evolution of prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes. The topics covered in lectures and readings of relevant literature include gene regulation, DNA replication, genetic recombination, and mRNA translation. In particular, the logic of experimental design and data analysis is emphasized.
Watson and Crick noted that the size of a viral genome was insufficient to encode a protein large enough to encapsidate it and reasoned, therefore that a virus shell must be composed of multiple, but identical subunits. Today, high resolution structures of virus capsids reveal the basis of this genetic economy as a highly symmetrical structure, much like a geodesic dome composed of protein subunits. Crystallographic structures and cryo-electron microscopy reconstructions combined with molecular data are beginning to reveal how these nano-structures are built. Topics covered in the course will include basic principles of virus structure and symmetry, capsid assembly, strategies for enclosing nucleic acid, proteins involved in entry and exit, and the life cycles of well understood pathogens such as HIV, influenza, polio, and Herpes. A review of cutting edge structural methods is also covered.
The main goal of this seminar will be to study the nervous system from the perspective of neuron-glia interactions. In each class, we will focus on one type of glial cell and discuss its origin, classification and function within the nervous system. Current findings concerning diseases associated with each type of glial cell will be discussed.
In this course, you will journey through the web of physical, chemical, and biological reactions that collectively constitute photosynthesis. We will begin with light harvesting and follow photons to the sites of primary photochemistry: the photoreaction centers. A molecular-scale view will show in atomic detail how these protein complexes capture and energize electrons. Then we will follow the multiple pathways electrons take as they carry out their work. Consequent reactions, such as the synthesis of ATP and the reduction of CO2 during the synthesis of carbohydrates, will also be discussed in structural detail. Lastly, we will delve into the evolution of these systems and also discuss other photosynthetic strategies, such as light-driven proton pumps and anoxygenic photosynthesis. The course will include a visit to an electron microscope to allow students to directly observe proteins involved in photosynthesis.
This course covers current understanding of, and modern approaches to human disease, emphasizing the molecular and cellular basis of both genetic disease and cancer. Topics include: The Genetics of Simple and Complex Traits; Karyotypic Analysis and Positional Cloning; Genetic Diagnosis; The Roles of Oncogenes and Tumor Suppressors in Tumor Initiation, Progression, and Treatment; The Interaction between Genetics and Environment; Animal Models of Human Disease; Cancer; and Conventional and Gene Therapy Treatment Strategies.
Protein Folding Problem - MIT
This course focuses on the mechanisms by which the amino acid sequence of polypeptide chains (proteins), determine their three-dimensional conformation. Topics in this course include sequence determinants of secondary structure, the folding of newly synthesized polypeptide chains within cells, folding intermediates aggregation and competing off-pathway reactions, and the unfolding and refolding of proteins in vitro. Additional topics covered are the role of helper proteins such as chaperonins and isomerases, protein recovery problems in the biotechnology industry, and diseases found associated with protein folding defects.
Maintenance of the complex three-dimensional structure adopted by a protein in the cell is vital for function. Oftentimes, as a consequence of environmental stress, genetic mutation, and/or infection, the folded structure of a protein gets altered and multiple proteins stick and fall out of solution in a process known as aggregation. In many protein aggregation diseases, incorrectly folded proteins self-associate, forming fiber-like aggregates that cause brain cell death and dementia. In this course, the molecular and biochemical basis of the prion diseases, which include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), Creutzfedt-Jakob disease and kuru will be examined. Also discussed are other classes of misfolding diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease. The proteins involved in all of these disorders and how the proteins' three dimensional structures change during the course of these afflictions is covered as well as why prions from certain species cannot infect animals from other species based on protein sequence and structure. The course will then address possible detection methods and therapies that are under development to treat some of the protein aggregation diseases.
In this course, we will address how transcriptional regulators both prohibit and drive differentiation during the course of development. How does a stem cell know when to remain a stem cell and when to become a specific cell type? Are there global differences in the way the genome is read in multipotent and terminally differentiated cells? We will explore how stem cell pluripotency is preserved, how master regulators of cell-fate decisions execute developmental programs, and how chromatin regulators control undifferentiated versus differentiated states. Additionally, we will discuss how aberrant regulation of transcriptional regulators produces disorders such as developmental defects and cancer.
To understand and treat any disease with a genetic basis or predisposition, scientists and clinicians need effective ways of manipulating the levels of genes and gene products. Conventional methods for the genetic modification of many experimental organisms are technically demanding and time consuming. Just over 5 years ago, a new mechanism of gene-silencing, termed RNA interference (RNAi), was discovered. In addition to being a fascinating biological process, RNAi provides a revolutionary technology that has already changed the way biomedical research is done and that may even prove useful for genetic interventions in a clinical context. In this course, students learn how RNAi was discovered, how it works, and what its physiological relevance might be. How RNAi can be harnessed to modulate gene expression and perform genetic screens, both in cells and in various organisms is also covered. Finally, this course examines the first attempts to use RNAi for the treatment of models of human diseases in experimental animals.
In this course, we will discuss the microbial physiology and genetics of stress responses in aquatic ecosystems, astrobiology, bacterial pathogenesis and other environments. We will learn about classical and novel methods utilized by researchers to uncover bacterial mechanisms induced under both general and environment-specific stresses. Finally, we will compare and contrast models for bacterial stress responses to gain an understanding of distinct mechanisms of survival and of why there are differences among bacterial genera.
In this course we will discover how innovative technologies combined with profound hypotheses have given rise to our current understanding of neuroscience. We will study both new and classical primary research papers with a focus on the plasticity between synapses in a brain structure called the hippocampus, which is believed to underlie the ability to create and retrieve certain classes of memories. We will discuss the basic electrical properties of neurons and how they fire. We will see how firing properties can change with experience, and we will study the biochemical basis of these changes. We will learn how molecular biology can be used to specifically change the biochemical properties of brain circuits, and we will see how these circuits form a representation of space giving rise to complex behaviors in living animals. A special emphasis will be given to understanding why specific experiments were done and how to design experiments that will answer the questions you have about the brain.
In this seminar, we will discuss some of the main themes that have arisen in the field of systems biology, including the concepts of robustness, stochastic cell-to-cell variability, and the evolution of molecular interactions within complex networks.
Cellular responses to DNA damage constitute one of the most important fields in cancer biology. In this class we will analyze classical and recent papers from the primary research literature to gain a profound understand of cell cycle regulation and DNA damage checkpoints that act as powerful emergency brakes to prevent cancer.
During development, the genetic content of each cell remains, with a few exceptions, identical to that of the zygote. Most differentiated cells therefore retain all of the genetic information necessary to generate an entire organism. It was through pioneering technology of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) that this concept was experimentally proven. Only 10 years ago the sheep Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult organism, demonstrating that the differentiated state of a mammalian cell can be fully reversible to a pluripotent embryonic state. A key conclusion from these experiments was that the difference between pluripotent cells such as embryonic stem (ES) cells and unipotent differentiated cells is solely a consequence of reversible changes. These changes, which have proved to involve reversible alterations to both DNA and to proteins that bind DNA, are known as epigenetic, to distinguish them from genetic alterations to DNA sequence. In this course we will explore such epigenetic changes and study different approaches that can return a differentiated cell to an embryonic state in a process referred to as epigenetic reprogramming, which will ultimately allow generation of patient-specific stem cells and application to regenerative therapy.
This course will start with a survey of basic oxygen radical biochemistry followed by a discussion of the mechanisms of action of cellular as well as dietary antioxidants. After considering the normal physiological roles of oxidants, we will examine the effects of elevated ROS and a failure of cellular redox capacity on the rate of organismal and cellular aging as well as on the onset and progression of several major diseases that are often age-related. Topics will include ROS-induced effects on stem cell regeneration, insulin resistance, heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer. The role of antioxidants in potential therapeutic strategies for modulating ROS levels will also be discussed.
This independent experimental study course is designed to allow students with a strong interest in independent research to fulfill the project laboratory requirement for the Biology Department Program in the context of a research laboratory at MIT. The research should be a continuation of a previous project under the direction of a member of the Biology Department faculty. This course provides instruction and practice in written and oral communication. Journal club discussions are used to help students evaluate and write scientific papers.
This seminar provides a deeper understanding of the post-translational mechanisms evolved by eukaryotic cells to target proteins for degradation. Students learn how proteins are recognized and degraded by specific machinery (the proteasome) through their previous tagging with another small protein, ubiquitin. Additional topics include principles of ubiquitin-proteasome function, its control of the most important cellular pathways, and the implication of this system in different human diseases. Finally, speculation on the novel techniques that arose from an increased knowledge of the ubiquitin-proteosome system and current applications in the design of new pharmacological agents to battle disease is also covered.
In this course, we will explore the specific ways by which microbes defeat our immune system and the molecular mechanisms that are under attack (phagocytosis, the ubiquitin/proteasome pathway, MHC I/II antigen presentation). Through our discussion and dissection of the primary research literature, we will explore aspects of host-pathogen interactions. We will particularly emphasize the experimental techniques used in the field and how to read and understand research data. Technological advances in the fight against microbes will also be discussed, with specific examples.