Anthropology of Biology

A photo of a bright orange jellyfish.

This jellyfish lives at an aquarium in Osaka, Japan. Topics covered in this course include the "alien" nature of marine life, as well as narratives of evolution, and human interactions with natural environments. (Image courtesy of sprengben on Flickr. CC-BY-NC-SA.)


MIT Course Number

21A.303J / STS.060J

As Taught In

Fall 2013



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Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

This course applies the tools of anthropology to examine biology in the age of genomics, biotechnological enterprise, biodiversity conservation, pharmaceutical bioprospecting, and synthetic biology. It examines such social concerns such as bioterrorism, genetic modification, and cloning. It offers an anthropological inquiry into how the substances and explanations of biology—ecological, organismic, cellular, molecular, genetic, informatic—are changing. It examines such artifacts as cell lines, biodiversity databases, and artificial life models, and using primary sources in biology, social studies of the life sciences, and literary and cinematic materials, and asks how we might answer Erwin Schrodinger's 1944 question, "What Is Life?" today.

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Related Content

Stefan Helmreich. 21A.303J Anthropology of Biology. Fall 2013. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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