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MCB64.1X: Cell Biology: Mitochondria - Syllabus

Course Instructor

Robert Lue

Course Description

The cell is a powerful case study to help us explore the functional logic of living systems. All organisms, from single-celled algae to complex multicellular organisms like us, are made up of cells. In this course, you will learn the how and why of biology by exploring the function of the molecular components of cells, and how these cellular components are organized in a complex hierarchy.

This course is designed to explore the fundamentals of cell biology. The overarching goal is for learners to understand, from a human-centered perspective, that cells are evolving ensembles of macromolecules that in turn form complex communities in tissues, organs, and multicellular organisms.

In this first course, we will focus on the mitochondrion, the organelle that powers the cell, and use it as the context for looking at the processes of cell metabolism. Finally, we will examine the F1F0 ATP synthase, the molecular machine that is responsible for the synthesis of most of the ATP that your cells require to do work. To underscore the importance of cell biology to our lives, we will address questions of development and disease and their implications for society.

By the end of four weeks, we hope learners will have a deep intuition for the functional logic of a cell. Together we will ask how do things work within a cell, why do they work the way they do, and how are we impacted?

Join us as we explore the extraordinary and wonderfully dynamic world of the cell.

What you'll learn

  • How the internal structure and organization of a cell reveals how and why a cell works
  • The role mitochondria play in the cell and why they are important for a cell to make ATP
  • How cells metabolize food to provide the molecules necessary for mitochondrial function
  • How the structure and activity of the F1F0 ATP synthase leads to the production of ATP
  • What experimental techniques are used to investigate mitochondrial structure and function in the laboratory


HarvardX pursues the science of learning. When you participate in this course, you will also participate in research about learning. Read our research statement to learn more.

Course Structure

Materials are released weekly, but you can progress through the material at your own pace. The course materials will be available until August 25, 2016. See the outline of the lessons (scroll down in this document) for release dates.


There are 4 different graded components of the course:

  1. Concept Check (CC) assessments. These occur after most videos, and are worth 40% of your grade.
  2. Integrative Content Evaluation (ICE) assessments. There are 3 ICEs worth 50% of your grade. ICE 1 and  ICE 2 are worth 15% each and the Final ICE is worth 20% of your grade.
  3. Human Disease Decision (HDD) assessments. There are 2 HDD assessments related to the human disease narrative in Lesson 2. There are no right answers here - this is a discussion! The HDD assessments are worth 10% of your grade.
  4. Mitochondrial Research Techniques (MRT) assessments. These are more challenging assessments, intended to help you learn more advanced methods and the interpretation of data. There are two MRT assessments. You can receive up to 3 points (out of 100) extra credit for each MRT!

All other components of the course are not for credit.


In order to receive a Verified Certificate, you must sign up for a Verified Certificate by June 28, 2016 and earn a passing grade of at least 70%. The Concept Check, ICE, and Human Disease Discussion assessments total 100% credit. The MRTs are cumulatively worth 6% extra credit.


All releases occur at 19:00 UTC.

Welcome and Introduction (release May 25, 2016)

  • Welcome to Cell Biology: Mitochondria
  • Meet the Cell Biology Course Team
  • Important Pre-Course Survey

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Cell (release May 25, 2016)

  • The Inner Life of the Cell
  • Plasma Membranes and Membrane Proteins (concept check)
  • Deep Dive: Phospholipids and FRAP (concept check)
  • Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes (concept check)
  • Parts of the Cell (concept check)

Lesson 2: The Mitochondrion (release June 1, 2016)

  • Powering the Cell: Mitochondria
  • What is the Mitochondrion? (concept check)
  • A Closer Look at the Mitochondrion (concept check)
  • Deep Dive: Endosymbiosis (concept check)
  • Human Disease Narrative: Amy's Story Part 1 (human disease decision)
  • Mitochondrial Disease (concept check)
  • Human Disease Narrative: Amy's Story Part 2 (human disease decision)

ICE 1: Lessons 1 and 2 (release June 1, 2016)

This Integrative Content Evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of material from Lessons 1 and 2.

Lesson 3: Cellular Metabolism (release June 8, 2016)

  • Electron Transport Chain
  • Overview of Metabolism and Photosynthesis (concept check)
  • Introduction to Metabolism (concept check)
  • Cellular Metabolism (concept check)
  • Membrane Transport Proteins (concept check)
  • Electron Flow and Proton Gradient (concept check)
  • Background: Molecular Structure

Lesson 4: The F0F1 ATP Synthase (release June 15, 2016)

  • Lesson 4 Overview
  • ATP Synthase Structure (concept check)
  • ATP Synthase Mechanism (concept check)
  • ATP Synthase in Action (concept check)

ICE 2: Lessons 3 and 4 (release June 15, 2016)

This Integrative Content Evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of material from Lessons 3 and 4.

Advanced: Mitochondrial Research Techniques (release June 15, 2016)

These assessments will help you understand how mitochondrial research is conducted.

  • Part 1: Mitochondrial Membrane Potential
  • Part 2: Mitochondrial Respirometry

Final ICE: Comprehensive (release June 22, 2016)

The Final Integrative Content Evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of material from the entire course.


What is the deadline to sign up for a Verified Certificate?

June 28, 2016 00:00 UTC.

How do I earn a certificate?

To earn a certificate, you must sign up for a Verified Certificate by the June 28 deadline and earn a grade of at least 70%. When you achieve this score, an option will appear on the Progress page to request a certificate. For more information, click on this link. Caution: the grade that you see on your dashboard reflects your grade at that time you requested the certificate. If you complete more assignments to raise your grade, the grade on your Progress page changes, but the grade listed on your dashboard is not updated.

How do I upgrade to a verified certificate?

Go to your EdX Dashboard (by clicking the edX icon at the top left of this page). Under this course, click the "Challenge Yourself!" link. The last day to sign up for a verified certificate is June 28, 2016.

How long does the course take?

That is up to you! It is 4 weeks of content. Just be aware that the course closes on August 25, 2016!

I am doing well on the assessments, but when I look under "Progress" I have a very low grade...why?

The grade is calculated based on all of the assessments you have completed and the assessments that you have not completed (edX says you have a "zero" on those assessments until you have attempted them). Until June 22nd, this will include lessons and ICEs that are not yet released! You will see your overall grade move up as you progress through the course.