Host Hacking: Parasitic Manipulations from a Micro- to a Macroscopic Scale

A mouse sitting inside a cat's mouth.

Chronic Toxoplasma infection has been linked to interesting behavioral alterations. For example, infected mice lose their fear of cats, increasing their chance of being eaten and so completing the parasite's life cycle. (Image by rubyblossom on Flickr. License BY-NC-SA.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2016



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Course Description

Course Description

Parasites require a hospitable organism to reproduce and spread and have evolved multiple strategies to subvert their hosts. Parasites scavenge nutrients directly from host cells, evade the host immune system and even modify host behavior to increase their transmission. This course will explore the strategies used by a ubiquitous and harmful class of parasites to hijack the biology of their host cells. We will discuss pathogens such as Plasmodium and Toxoplasma, responsible for some of the deadliest and most pervasive infectious diseases on the planet.

By exploring how these pathogens invade a host cell and replicate while evading the immune system, students will gain a broad understanding of basic cell biology, biochemistry and immunology, as well as learn techniques commonly used in cell biology. Students will be challenged to think creatively and flexibly to understand, critique, interpret, and design scientific experiments in the field of host-pathogen interactions.

Related Content

Clare Harding, and Diego Huet. 7.341 Host Hacking: Parasitic Manipulations from a Micro- to a Macroscopic Scale. Fall 2016. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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