Thomas Jack Morris
T. Jack Morris
Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences

University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Contact Information
414 Manter Hall


Research Interests

We study plant viruses with a particular emphasis on understanding the molecular basis of virus-host interactions. We have been exploring mechanisms of host plant resistance in Arabidopsis to turnip crinkle virus (TCV) infection. The ability to manipulate both the viral pathogen and the host plant using molecular genetic and genomic tools makes our model system particularly suitable for examining molecular basis of plant innate immunity and the role of the silencing pathway in defense against viral infection. Research applications include the development of novel strategies for genetically engineering resistance against viral pathogens, and in the area of plant biotechnology, using RNA viruses as transient vectors for vaccine development against animal viruses.

I have also been actively involved in science education and outreach programs at UNL. This activity currently involves in a partnership with UNMC scientists on an NIH funded INBRE project focused on engaging undergraduates in biomedical and bioinformatics research. I have active interest in science education and was recently named a National Academies Education Fellow in Life Sciences for 2010-11.


Dr. T. Jack Morris is Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. He has served as Director of the School of Biological Sciences from 1990 to 2005. He completed BS and MS degrees at McGill University in Canada and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at UNL in 1973. During his career at the University of California at Berkeley from 1976-90, he developed a internationally recognized program in molecular plant virology that produced many of the research leaders in the field. His research accomplishments include pioneering studies on the molecular biology of small RNA plant viruses that have resulted in fundamental advances on aspects of virus assembly, replication and virus-host interactions including the discovery of the first defective interfering RNA in plants. He is a charter member of the American Society of Virology and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Phytopathological Society. He was honored in 1995 as Nebraska’s Sigma Xi Scientist of the Year and in 2005 with the Ruth Allen Award from the American Phytopathological Society for outstanding career contributions to research. Dr. Morris has been actively involved in science education and outreach programs at UNL. This activity has involved him as a PI on two HHMI grants for Pre-College and Undergraduate Education (1992-98 - million). He has partnered leadership in a College-wide area of strength in Math/Science education and promoted the development of a science curriculum for education majors. Currently, he is involved in a partnership with UNMC scientists on an NIH funded INBRE project focused on engaging undergraduates in biomedical and bioinformatics research. He was recently named a National Academies Education Fellow in Life Sciences for 2010-11.


Xiuchun Zhang, Shirley Sato, Xiaohong Ye, Anne E. Dorrance, T. Jack Morris, Thomas E. Clemente, and Feng Qu. 2011. Strong resistance to simultaneous attacks of three viruses in soybean plants expressing separate short hairpins from a single transgene. (in press) Phytopathology.

Lisa M Pytlik Zillig, Alan J Tomkins, Peter Muhlberger, Rosevelt L. Pardy, Thomas Jack Morris, Yuris A. Dzenis, Joseph A. Turner, Timothy P. Collins. 2011. Using Public Engagements to Provide Input and  Insights into Policy, Legal, Ethical, and Other Impacts of Science.  The International Journal of Science in Society 2: 273- 290.

Cao, M., Ye, X., Willie K., Lin, J., Redinbaugh, M., Morris, TJ.,and Qu, F. 2010. The capsid protein of turnip crinkle virus overcomes two separate barriers to facilitate viral systemic movement in Arabidopsis. J Virology 84: 7793-7802.

Qu, F., Ye, X., and Morris, T.J. 2008. Arabidopsis DRB4, AGO1, and AGO7 participate in a DCL4-initiated antiviral RNA silencing pathway that is negatively regulated by DCL1. PNAS 105, 14732-14737 plus SI.

  • Powers, J.G., Sit, T.L., Qu, F., Morris, T.J., Kim, K-H., Lommel, S.A. 2008. A versatile assay for the identification of RNA silencing suppressors based on complementation of viral movement. MPMI 21, 879-890.
  • Qu, F., and Morris, T.J. 2007. Plant virus silencing suppressors and RNA silencing in plants. Invited chapter A20710, Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, Wiley & Sons, pp7.
  • Feng Qu and T Jack Morris. 2007. Carmoviruses (Tombusviridae). In: B. Mahy & M van Regenmortel, Editors, Encyclopedia of Virology, Elsevier, Oxford.
  • Stenger, DC., Young, BA., Qu, F., Morris, TJ & French, R. 2007. Wheat streak mosaic virus lacking HC-Pro is competent to produce disease synergism in mixed infections with Maize chlorotic mottle virus. Phytopathology 97: 1213-1221.
  • Blake, J. A., Lee, K.W., Morris, T.J. and Elthon, T.E. 2007. Effects of turnip crinkle virus infection on the structure and function of mitochondria and expression of stress proteins in turnips.Physiologia Plantarum 129:698-706.
  • Feng Qu, Xiaohong Ye, Guichuan Hou, Shirley Sato, Thomas E. Clemente and T. Jack Morris. 2005. RDR6 has a broad spectrum but temperature dependent antiviral defense role in Nicotiana benthamiana. J Virol., 79: 15209-15217.
  • Feng Qu and T. Jack Morris. 2005, Suppressors of RNA silencing encoded by plant viruses and their role in viral infections. FEBS Lett 579, 5958-5964.
  • Ren, T., Qu, F., and Morris, T.J. 2005. Turnip crinkle virus coat protein binds to and prevents the nuclear localization of an Arabidopsis NAC transcription factor. Virology 331, 316-324.
  • Chang Won Choi, Feng Qu, Tao Ren, Xiaohong Ye & T. Jack Morris. 2004. The RNA silencing suppressor function of Turnip crinkle virus coat protein cannot be attributed to its interaction with the Arabidopsis protein TIP. J Gen Virol 85, 3415-3420.
  • D. M. Pérez Filgueira, M. Mozgovoj, A. Wigdorovitz, M. J. Dus Santos, V. Parreño, K. Trono, F.M. Fernandez, C. Carrillo, T.J. Morris & M.V. Borca . 2004. Passive Protection to Bovine Rotavirus (BRV) Infection Induced by a BRV VP8* Produced in Plants Using a TMV-based Vector. Arch Virol 149: 2337-2348.
  • D. M. Pérez Filgueira, B. P. Brayfield, S. Phiri, M.V. Borca, C. Wood & T. J. Morris. 2004. Preserved antigenicity of HIV-1 p24 produced and purified in high yields from plants inoculated with a tobacco mosaic virus (TMV)-derived vector. J. Virological Methods 121, 201-208.
  • Qu, F., T. Ren and T. J. Morris 2003. The coat protein of turnip crinkle virus suppresses posttranscriptional gene silencing at an early initiation step. Journal of Virology 77(1): 511-522.
  • Qu, F. and T. J. Morris 2002. Efficient infection of Nicotiana benthamiana by Tomato bushy stunt virus is facilitated by the coat protein and maintained by p19 through suppression of gene silencing. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 15(3): 193-202.
  • Hall, J. S., R. French, T. J. Morris and D. C. Stenger 2001. Structure and temporal dynamics of populations within wheat streak mosaic virus isolates. Journal of Virology 75(21): 10231-10243.
  • Hall, J. S., R. French, G. L. Hein, T. J. Morris and D. C. Stenger 2001. Three distinct mechanisms facilitate genetic isolation of sympatric wheat streak mosaic virus lineages. Virology 282(2): 230-236.
  • Ren, T., F. Qu and T. J. Morris 2000. HRT gene function requires interaction between a NAC protein and viral capsid protein to confer resistance to turnip crinkle virus. Plant Cell 12(10): 1917-1925.
  • Choi, I. R., D. C. Stenger, T. J. Morris and R. French 2000. A plant virus vector for systemic expression of foreign genes in cereals. Plant Journal 23(4): 547-555.
  • Cohen, Y., F. Qu, A. Gisel, T. J. Morris and P. C. Zambryski 2000. Nuclear localization of turnip crinkle virus movement protein p8. Virology 273(2): 276-285.
  • Robertson, N. L., R. French and T. J. Morris 2000. The open reading frame 5A of foxtail mosaic virus is expressed in vivo and is dispensable for systemic infection. Archives of Virology 145(8): 1685-1698.
  • Qu, F. and T. J. Morris 2000. Cap-independent translational enhancement of turnip crinkle virus genomic and subgenomic RNAs. Journal of Virology 74(3): 1085-1093.
  • Morris, T. J. 2000. Tombusviruses. In Encyclopedia of Plant Pathology, ed. O.C. Maloy & T.D. Murray, J. Wiley, N.Y.