Robert L. Morris

Professor of Biology; William & Elsie Prentice Professorship (2015-2020)

Personal Website


Mars 1137

(508) 286-3953

(508) 285-8278


Main Interests

I am a biologist, teacher, researcher, innovator, futurist, and unabashed advocate of science for all.

It is my mission to share the excitement, wonder, and value of science with as wide an audience as possible. I am currently launching new initiatives in science outreach including public science events called Family Science Nights, a new television program, and a new YouTube channel.  Links to these and other experiments in the enthusiastic communication of science are available at my website, ScienceWithDrBob.com.



Ph.D., Harvard University
A.B., Lafayette College

Research Interests

My lab is interested in the ways cells use movement during growth from egg to animal and during re-growth from injury to wholeness. In particular, my lab is focused on the process of ciliogenesis – the process of cilia formation. Cilia are long appendages of cells that beat like paddles to move fluid over a cell or stand straight like antennae to receive signals from the outside world. Healthy cilia help embryos grow and lungs clear, eyes see and ears hear. By revealing how these universal and versatile organelles called cilia participate in tissue growth and regrowth, our research helps explain birth defects in early life as well as diseases and repair mechanisms later in life.

For years my go-to model organism has been the sea urchin. These close evolutionary cousins of ours use cilia for motility and for signaling during development to tell cells how to grow. To complement this research on the roles of cilia in tissue growth, we now use zebrafish to look for possible roles for cilia in tissue regrowth and repair. Due to the remarkable abilities of zebrafish to regenerate tissues after injury, we are now actively studying cilia in tissue regeneration

My students and I conduct our research collaboratively with other scientists at Wheaton, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, where I am the Director of the Visiting Scientist Program, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Teaching Interests

My interests in teaching range from biology to business to the future of life. I teach and lecture in all these subjects. In addition, I love experimenting with innovative teaching methods. This includes employing participatory performance art I call “Molecular Theater” to illustrate complex biological processes, utilizing social media (tweeting and instagramming at @drbobmorris) and appearing on television (such as in MDI Biological Laboratory’s “Science that Matters” segments like this one on WABI in Bangor, Maine) to popularize science for a wider audience.

I teach courses in introductory cell and molecular biology (Bio112/Cells and Genes), Cell Biology (Bio219), Developmental Biology (Bio254), Neurobiology (Bio324), Applied Health Science (Mgmt298) and occasionally Advanced Marine Biology (Bio331), First Year Seminar (FYS), and Senior Seminar (Bio401). I teach Independent Research (Bio499) including Honors Thesis research (Bio500) every year.

My courses are also Connected in the Wheaton Curriculum. Bio112/Cells and Genes is connected with Econ112/Microeconomics in the “Biopharma” Connection. Bio219/Cell Biology is connected with Arth353 Castles and Cathedrals in the “Living Architecture” Connection. Bio219/Cell Biology and Bio254/Developmental Biology are connected with several courses in the “Visualizing Information” Connection.


* indicates undergraduate co-author

Morris, R.L., H.W. Pope*, A.N. Sholi*, L.M. Williams*, C.R. Ettinger*, G.M. Beacham*, T. Shintaku*, Z.D. Abbott*, and E.M. Doherty*. (2015) Methods for imaging individual cilia in living echinoid embryos. Methods in Cell Biology, Volume 127, ISSN 0091-679X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/bs.mcb.2014.12.004 (in press).

J.H. Henson, A.D. Gianakas*, L.H. Henson*, C.L. Lakin*, M.K. Voss*, J. Bewersdorf, R. Oldenbourg, and R.L. Morris. (2014) Broadening the Spectrum of Actin-Based Protrusive Activity Mediated by Arp2/3 Complex-Facilitated Polymerization: Motility of Cytoplasmic Ridges and Tubular Projections. Cytoskeleton 71(8):484-500. doi: 10.1002/cm.21186. Epub 2014 Aug 26.

J.F. Warner, A.M. McCarthy*, R.L. Morris, D.R. McClay. (2013) Hedgehog Signaling Requires Motile Cilia in the Sea Urchin. Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Nov 5. doi:10.1093/molbev/mst176.

E.F. Dunn, V.N. Moy, L.M. Angerer, R.C. Angerer, R.L. Morris, and K.J. Peterson. (2007) Molecular paleoecology: Using gene regulatory analysis to address the origins of complex life cycles in the late Precambrian. Evolution and Development 9(1):10-24.

Sea Urchin Genome Sequencing Consortium: 228 co-authors including Sodergren E, Weinstock GM, Davidson EH, Cameron RA, …, Burgess DR, …, R.L. Morris, …, Allgood EL*, Cool J*, Judkins KM*, McCafferty SS, Musante AM*, Obar RA, Rawson AP*, Rossetti BJ*, Gibbons IR, Hoffman MP, Leone A*, … (2006). The genome of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Science. 314(5801):941-52.

R.L. Morris, Hoffman MP, Obar RA, McCafferty SS, Gibbons IR, Leone AD*, Cool J*, Allgood EL*, Musante AM*, Judkins KM*, Rossetti BJ*, Rawson AP*, Burgess DR. (2006). Analysis of cytoskeletal and motility proteins in the sea urchin genome assembly. Developmental Biology 300(1):219-37.

R.L. Morris, C.N. English*, J.E. Lou*, F.J. Dufort*, J.J. Nordberg*, M. Terasaki, and B. Hinkle. (2004) Redistribution of the kinesin-II subunit KAP from cilia to nuclei during the mitotic and ciliogenic cycles in sea urchin embryos. Developmental Biology 274:56-69.

R.L. Morris and J.M. Scholey. (1997) Heterotrimeric kinesin-II is required for the assembly of motile 9+2 ciliary axonemes on sea urchin embryos. J. Cell Biology 138:1009-1022.

R.L. Morrisand P.J. Hollenbeck. (1995) Axonal transport of mitochondria along microtubules and F-actin in living vertebrate neurons.  J. Cell Biology 131:1315-1326.

R.L. Morris and P.J. Hollenbeck. (1993) The regulation of bidirectional mitochondrial transport is coordinated with axonal outgrowth. J. Cell Science 104:917-927.

B. Pouvelle, R. Spiegel, L. Hsiao, R.J. Howard, R.L. Morris, A.P. Thomas, and T.F. Taraschi.  (1991)  Direct access to serum macromolecules by intraerythrocytic malaria parasites.  Nature  353:73-75.



Recent invited lectures:
“A Taste for Science: the Evolution and Genetics of Taste and Smell” Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Co-presented with Chef Michael Anderson. July 24, 2015.

“Future Life: The Merger of People, Planet, and Technology” (six lectures) Norton Institute for Continuing Education, Norton MA. 9 March – 13 April 2015.

“Escape from Dinkelbuhl” Wheaton Story Slam, 3 April 2015.

“Future Humans: How Our Technology Becomes Us” Wheaton Wheatalks, 30 March 2015.

“The Business of Science: How Ideas Move from a Scientist’s Bench to a Consumer’s Product” co-presented with Dr. David Huizenga, PhD, JD, MDI Biological Lab Science Café. Asticou Inn, Northeast Harbor Maine. 15 July 2013.

“Growing versatility: Mechanisms of cilia differentiation in echinoid embryos,” Research talk. Boston University Department of Biology, 11 February 2013.

“Inevitable Immortality: how medicine and technology will keep us forever young.” Greater Boston Wheaton Club alumni meeting at Tennis & Racquet Club, Boston. 29 April 2013.

“Mechanisms of ciliary growth and differentiation,” Developmental Biology of the Sea Urchin meeting. Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA. 27 October 2012.

“Genomics for undergrads: achieving simple goals with complex tools ” Developmental Biology of the Sea Urchin meeting. MBL. Woods Hole, MA. 27 October 2012.

“Medical Mysteries Solved by the Sea,” Norton Institute for Continuing Education, Norton MA. 6 June 2012. and at MDI Bio Lab Science Café, Northeast Harbor Maine 16 July 2012.

“Hogwarts Biology: Things muggles might know better than magicians.” Qualters Middle School, Mansfield MA. January 18, 2012.

Student Projects

* indicates undergraduate co-author

Projects from 2010-2018 soon to be posted.

R.L. Morris, I.D. Greenstein*, T. Shintaku*, A. Hussain*, A.M. Carson*, K.M. Hewitt*.  (2010). Differentiation of Ciliary Subtypes During Echinoid Development.  Mol. Biol. Cell 21 (suppl), abstract #159. presented at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting, Philadelphia, Dec 12, 2010.

Gianakas*, A., R.L. Morris, and J.H. Henson. (2010). Arp2/3 Complex-Facilitated Actin Polymerization Drives the Rocketing Motility Exhibited by Cytoplasmic Ridges in Spreading Sea Urchin Coelomocytes.  Mol. Biol. Cell 21 (suppl), abstract #186. presented at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting, Philadelphia, Dec 12, 2010.

R.L. Morris, R.T. Manguso*, M.L. Keyes*, B.J. Rossetti*, A.P. Rawson*, T. Shintaku*, and Ian Greenstein*.  (2009)  Developmental Regulation Of The Ciliary Proteome in Sea Urchin.  (abstract for poster presented at the Developmental Biology of the Sea Urchin meeting, MBL, Woods Hole MA, October 2009).

J. Bhatia*, B.J. Chick*, S.C. Cummings*, J.M. Fess*, B.A. Jeffrey*, E.A. Kovacs*, L.E. Shorey*, A.L. Silverio*, S.A. Tower*, R.-H. Yen*, and R.L. Morris (2006) The effects of mercury on primary culture chick sympathetic neurons. (Poster presented with Bio324/Neurobiology students at the Northeast Undergraduate Research Organization for Neuroscience annual meeting. Hunter College, New York, NY. April 5, 2006.)

R.L. Morris, D. Erkoboni*, J. Nordberg*, C.N. English*, F.J. Dufort*, A.Manning*. (2005)  Stepwise ciliary growth on sea urchin embryos supported by kinesin-2.  Molecular Biology of the Cell  16 (supplement).  (abstract for poster presented at the American Society for Cell Biology Meeting, San Francisco, CA, December, 2005).

R.L. Morris, G.C Collins, C.N. English*, D.M. Kyes*, and G.G. Ahrendts.  (2003). ICUC: a digital imaging lab infusing active learning throughout an undergraduate  science curriculum.  Molecular Biology of the Cell  14(supplement):248a. 2003.  (abstract presented at the American Society for Cell Biology Meeting, San Francisco, in December, 2003).