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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions


BIOMI 2600 Microbiology of Human Contagious Diseases

Course description

Although most microbes are harmless or even beneficial, a few have been human scourges for thousands of years, in some cases altering the course of human history. This course provides an introduction to the roles that microbes can play in human health and disease. The central goal of this course is to familiarize you with fundamental aspects of pathogenesis and of host defenses so that this material will be more familiar to you in future classes and in your daily lives. Students should have completed at least one year of General Biology and at least one year of General Chemistry at the high school or college level. Previous classes in microbiology could be helpful but are not required. The first part of the course will focus on certain aspects of general microbiology that are essential for an understanding of pathogenesis. For example, we will study the structure and metabolism of the bacterial cell wall, and the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and protein, precisely because these processes are essential to the life cycle of all pathogens, and because they provide targets for a wide variety of medicines. We will study the normal microbiota of healthy individuals and the role of these organisms in preventing disease. We will study the genes required for disease and how pathogens can exchange these genes with each other. We will analyze the molecules and cells of the immune system and how natural immunity can be augmented by use of vaccines. In the second half of the course, we will illustrate general principles of pathogenesis by focusing on selected pathogens. We will study diseases that are spread by insects or fleas (including malaria and bubonic plague), those acquired by inhalation (including whooping cough, tuberculosis, and influenza), those caused by ingesting contaminated food or water (including polio, dysentery, and cholera), and finally, diseases of the genitourinary tract, including sexually acquired infections (gonorrhea, syphilis, and AIDS). In each case, we will examine disease symptoms, the molecular mechanisms of disease, natural defenses of the host, and medical interventions that are available for disease treatment and prevention.


one semester of introductory biology or equivalent

This course is open to all registrants, including undergraduates and Summer College students.


The next offering of this course is undetermined at this time.

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