Robert L. Morris
Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Biology, Neuroscience, Public Health
Mars Center for Science and Technology 1137
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
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 a visiting scientist and Science Outreach Coordinator, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
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. and Vacquier, V. D. (2019) Sea urchin embryonic cilia, Methods in Cell Biology. Elsevier Inc., 150, pp. 235–250. doi: 10.1016/bs.mcb.2018.11.016.
Romano, L., Byrum, C., Lee, P.Y., and Morris, R.L. (2019) Exploring the sea urchin genome with undergraduates using bioinformatic tools, Methods in Cell Biology, 150(Echinoderms, Part A), pp. 449–470. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.mcb.2018.11.014.
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.
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.
“The Last Dinosaurs,” Math and Science Days with Dr. Bob. Live science shows for for 3rd-5th graders, Mansfield MA elementary schools. January 2020.
“A Taste for Science: Powerful Flavors Beyond Salt and Sugar”, MDI Biological Lab. Co-presented with Chefs Michael Anderson & Amanda Kendall, 24 July and 15 Aug 2019.
“Building Rainbows” and “Whirly Twirly Curliques,” Math and Science Days with Dr. Bob. Live science shows for for 1st-5th graders, Mansfield MA elementary schools. January 2019.
“A Taste for Science: Tasty Pairings and Ribosomes”, MDI Biological Lab event in Seal Harbor, Maine. Co-presented with Chef Huyen Tran, Clark Point Catering, 21 August 2018.
“Public Science Outreach: Building Skills While Doing Good.” 24th Devel. Biol. of the Sea Urchin conference (Education session). Woods Hole, MA. 20 Oct 2018.
“Family Science Night” live theater shows, Massachusetts Music & Art Society, Mansfield MA.
“Science with Dr. Bob – Climate Change” May 3, 2018
“Science with Dr. Bob – The Story of Water” June 14, 2018
“Science with Dr. Bob – The Physics of Sound” July 5, 2018
“Science with Dr. Bob – The Foundations of Flavor” August 2, 2018
“Why Don’t Animals Have Wheels?” Math and Science Days with Dr. Bob. Live science shows for 3rd-5th graders, Mansfield MA elementary schools. May 2018.
“Blended Learning to Allow Student Research with Online Publication” Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conference. Bryn Mawr College. 24 May 2018.
“A Taste for Science: Fire & Ice – provocative flavor combos” Parts 1&2, MDI Bio Lab. Co-presented with Chefs Michael Anderson & Amanda Kendall. July 27 and August 12, 2017.
“Science that Matters” and “Science with Dr. Bob” Segments on WABI Television, Bangor ME
“Center for Science Entrepreneurship” with Dr Jane Disney, January 19, 2017
“Anecdata.Org and Entrepreneurship” with Duncan Bailey, January 19, 2017
“Education and entrepreneurship” with Isaiah Monsour January 26, 2017
“Old foods keep us young: Chocolate,” January 26, 2017
“Everyone is a Scientist,” May 11, 2017
“Sweet Tooth, part 1,” May 11, 2017
“Sweet Tooth, part 2,” May 25, 2017
“Rainbow detectives and color separation,” May 25, 2017
“Polarized light lets us see the invisible,” June 21, 2017
“Cabbage shows its colors as a pH indicator,” June 21, 2017
“Family Science Night 2017” part 1 and part 2, July 12, 2017
“Liquid Nitrogen is super cool.” August 2, 2017
“Dry Ice,” August 10, 2017
“Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream,” August 10, 2017
“Hogwarts Biology – Things Muggle Might Know Better Than Magicians” talk at Mountain View Elementary School, Sullivan Maine. 13 June 2017.
“A Taste for Science: How Old Foods Keep Us Young,” Parts 1&2, MDI Biological Lab. Co-presented with Chefs Michael Anderson & Amanda Kendall. July 27 and Aug 12, 2016.
“Science that Matters” and “Science with Dr. Bob” Segments on WABI Television, Bangor ME
“Family Science Night 1” and “Family Science Night 2”, July 10, 2016
“What’s in your drinking water?” with Dr Bruce Stanton, September 8, 2016
“Heart regeneration” with Dr Voot Yin, September 8, 2016
“Dietary restriction for life extension” with Dr Aric Rogers, September 15, 2016
“Taste for Science – Genetics of Taste,” September 15, 2016
“Health impacts of early life stress” with Dr Jim Coffman, October 27, 2016
“Peripheral neuropathy” with Dr Sandra Rieger, October 27, 2016
“Wound repair” with Dr Vicki Losik, November 17, 2016
“Old Foods Keep Us Young: Microbiome,” November 17, 2016
“Social Media in Teaching and Research: a Primer to a Powerful Double-Edged Sword.” 23rd Dev. Bio. of the Sea Urchin conference (Education session). Woods Hole, MA. 9 Oct 2015.
“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 Dinkelsbuhl” 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.
Most recent student projects
Anik Mutsuddy ’20. Cilia dynamics on regenerating zebrafish heart. . BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. (pending) May 2020.
Caroline del Real ’20, Characterizing primary cilia in murine proximal tubule epithelial cells (PTECs) and arl13b:GFP zebrafish for studies of senescence. REU summer project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2019.
Amber Alcindor ’20, Investigating the Relationship between Podocytes and Cilia in Zebrafish. REU summer project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2019.
Kira E. Olander ‘19, Analysis of Ciliary Gene Expression in Sea Urchin Development. BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2019.
Keran Yang ‘19, Investigation of Kinesin-2 and Osm-3 during ciliogenesis in sea urchin embryos. BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2019.
Jiali Zhu ‘19, Dynamics of cilia life cycle: ciliogenesis in zebrafish and cilia retraction in echinoid embryos. BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2019.
Sarah King ’18, The Quantitative PCR analysis of ciliary genes in regenerating heart of <emDanio rerio. REU summer project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2017.
Jiali Zhu, Ciliogenesis of cardiac cells during early stages of heart regeneration in zebrafish (Danio rerio). Summer research fellow project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2017.
Arielle Michaelis, Investigation of cilia knock down on heart regeneration in zebra fish (Danio rerio). REU summer project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2017.
Ao (Kevin) Shi ’17, Cilia dynamics in cardiac regeneration in zebrafish (Danio rerio). BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2017.
Nina Badger, ’17 (Kennett High School, North Conway, NH), Investigation of cilia during early stages of heart regeneration in zebrafish (Danio rerio). Summer High School Research Fellow project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2016.
Natasha Hongsermeier ‘17, Investigation of cilia during early stages of heart regeneration in zebrafish (Danio rerio). REU summer project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2016.
Javon Mullings ’16, Genomics Approaches to Analyzing Ciliary Gene Functions and Regulation. BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2016.
Walker Fuchs ’16, Cilia Abundance in Regenerating Zebrafish Cardiac Tissue and their Potential Relation to cell Signaling Pathways. BIO 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2016.
Angela Mirabella ’16. Methods for Ciliary Analysis in Heart. BIO 499 Senior Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2016.
Bethany Humphrey ’16 (Maine School of Science and Mathematics, Limestone, Maine). Using immunofluorescent staining and imaging to identify cilia in the regenerating tube feet of green sea urchins Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis. Summer High School Research Fellow project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2015.
Harrison Knowlton ’15. Identifying Ciliated Cells in Regenerating Zebrafish Heart Tissue. Summer High School Research Fellow project at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Completed August 2015.
Hans Pope’15. Ciliogenesis During Zebrafish Heart Regeneration. NEUR 500 Honors Thesis year-long research project. Completed May 2015.
(2014-1998 projects to be posted soon)
Student published projects prior to 2010
* indicates undergraduate co-author
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).