Harnessing the Biosphere: Natural Products and Biotechnology

a photograph showing a glass of beer

The best example of using microorganisms to make useful products is in the production of alcoholic beverages like wine and beer. With the advent of molecular biology and modern genetic techniques, we can optimize alcohol and flavor compound biosynthesis in the organisms that are typically used for alcoholic beverage production. (Photograph by Alicia Franke. Used with permission.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2012



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Course Description

Course Description

What do the organisms of the biosphere, specifically microorganisms, have to offer to biotechnological endeavors? In this course we will focus on the production of biomolecules using microbial systems. We will discuss potential growth substrates (such as agricultural waste and carbon dioxide) that can be used and learn about both established and cutting-edge manipulation techniques in the field of synthetic biology. We will also cover the production of biofuels, bioplastics, amino acids (e.g. lysine), food additives (e.g. monosodium glutamate, MSG), specialty chemicals (e.g. succinate), and biopharmaceuticals (e.g. plasmids for gene therapy).

This course is one of many Advanced Undergraduate Seminars offered by the Biology Department at MIT. These seminars are tailored for students with an interest in using primary research literature to discuss and learn about current biological research in a highly interactive setting. Many instructors of the Advanced Undergraduate Seminars are postdoctoral scientists with a strong interest in teaching.

Related Content

Christopher Brigham, and Jens Plassmeier. 7.341 Harnessing the Biosphere: Natural Products and Biotechnology. Fall 2012. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, https://ocw.mit.edu. License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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