About Dr Michael Morris

How do mammalian, including human, embryos grow? And how can stem cells grown in the laboratory shed light on the highly complex mechanisms that control development? My lab focuses on understanding the complex molecular pathways and circuits that control early stages of development – from pluripotency to gastrulation to cells of the developing nervous system. We have discovered a number of simple molecules which, surprisingly, act like growth factors to promote embryo development at various stages.

My laboratory has ongoing interests in two distinct areas: (i) Embryonic Stem Cells/Embryogenesis and (ii) 3D Structure of Membrane Proteins.

(i) Embryonic Stem Cells/Embryogenesis: ES cells recapitulate many of the complex processes that occur during mammalian embryogenesis. This provides enormous experimental advantages because it is possible to identify molecules, signaling pathways, genetic and epigenetic events that contribute to stemness and that direct the differentiation of stem cells to specific cell fates. Thus, we use ES cells as an in vitro model to understand the molecular mechanisms of normal and abnormal development. We also develop protocols to direct the differentiation of ES cells to specific cell types that can be used in animal models of human disease. In addition, we apply the knowledge we have gained from stem-cell behaviour in vitro to determine if the development of embryos themselves are controlled by the same or similar mechanisms. In particular, we focus on 3 key milestones in development which must be negotiated successfully: formation of the blastocyst, gastrulation, and neurogenesis.

(ii) 3D Structure of Membrane Proteins: Membrane proteins are common and perform an enormous range of critical tasks in cells. However, it has continued to prove very difficult to obtain information on their 3D structures. Our research is directed towards developing computational tools that can be used to predict, refine, and compare the 3D structures of these proteins.

Selected publications

For a comprehensive list of Dr Morris's publications and grants, please visit his Sydney Medical School academic profile.