Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


At least one of the following prerequisites is required:

7.03 Genetics

7.05 General Biochemistry

7.06 Cell Biology

7.28 Molecular Biology

Course Description

In the western world, approximately 10–15% of couples suffer from subfertility. Consequently, over 5 million babies have been born thanks to assisted reproductive technologies, and more than half of those have been born in the past six years alone. In some countries, 3–5% of births are achieved with assisted reproductive technologies, and this number is projected to grow as societies are increasingly interested in beating the biological clock.

This class will cover the basic biology behind fertility and explore the etiology of infertility. We will cover the latest developments in reproductive science and discuss the clinical challenges of translating research findings into medical treatments. We will discuss recent studies of gonadal stem cells and their use for rejuvenation of fertility, oocyte and embryo cryopreservation studies and usage, current diagnostic tools for common causes of male infertility, and key mouse models with reproductive phenotypes. This class will highlight open questions in reproductive biology, familiarize students with both tried-and-true and emerging reproductive technologies, and explore the advantages and pitfalls of each. Students will have the opportunity to visit a Boston-area IVF clinic and speak with researchers who are on the front lines of reproductive technologies.

Objectives and Format

The main aim of this course is to teach the students how to critically read and discuss scientific papers. Students will read two papers from the primary research literature before coming to each class. This reading is essential, since the class will be based on discussion of these papers. Figures and tables will be projected using PowerPoint, and the entire class will participate in discussions of this material. Experimental design, control experiments, materials and methods, data and appropriateness of interpretations will be discussed. At the end of each class, the instructor will give a short introduction to the papers for the following week.


The class is graded on a pass / fail basis. A passing grade will be given to students who attend the course, participate in discussions, and satisfactorily complete the assignments.


1 Introduction  
2 The effect of age on reproduction in men and women  
3 Gonadal stem cells  
4 Cryopreservation of human embryos and oocytes  
5 Characterization of infertility  
6 Sex chromosome constitution and fertility Midterm Article Topic Selection and Approval
7 Embryo culture, assessment, selection and transfer Midterm Assignment Due
8 Visit to Boston area IVF clinic  
9 Mouse models with abnormal reproductive phenotypes  
10 Seminal fluid–more than just a carrier of sperm  
11 Promise and challenges in reprogramming adult cells to gametes Paper Selection for Final Assignment
12 Student paper presentations and discussions