Professor Jo Morris PhD BSc

Professor Jo Morris

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Professor of Molecular Genetics

Contact details

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Jo Morris is interested in the way our cells maintain and repair our genome, keeping our DNA intact.

A particular interest is the functions of the breast and ovarian cancer predisposition protein BRCA1 and the way it works in controlling DNA resection and DNA replication. She also works on the small modifier proteins, ubiquitin and SUMO and is interested in how these change the way that proteins behave in order to aid DNA repair and DNA replication.

Jo has published research papers in scientific journals as well as reviews and book chapters in the fields of breast cancer genetics, the cellular response to DNA damage and small modifier biology of ubiquitin and SUMO. She has research grants from the Breast Cancer Now and Cancer Research UK.


  • PhD in Molecular Genetics (1999)
  • BSc (Hons) 1995


Jo Morris qualified with a BSc (Hons) in Biology from the University of York in 1995. She went on to study for a PhD in cancer biology at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London. After post-doctoral research at King’s College London she was awarded a Fellowship by the Breast Cancer Campaign (also undertaken at King’s College London at Guy’s Hospital). In 2010 Jo joined the School of Cancer Sciences at the University of Birmingham, to help establish the Birmingham Centre for Genome Biology.

Her Laboratory focuses on cellular pathways associated with cancer development and predisposition, and their potential exploitation for treatment and diagnosis.

In 2009 Jo and her team were awarded ‘Research Team of the Year’ by the breast cancer research charity, Breast Cancer Campaign.

Jo won ’best invited speaker’ at the 2015 Breast Cancer Symposium.

Jo was promoted to Reader in 2013 and to Professor in 2016.


  • Module Lead for Genomics on the Cancer Sciences MRes course
  • BMedSci
  • DNA damage pathways in human disease (UG)
  • Advanced Molecular  Experimental Genetics
  • Invasion and Metastasis Small group teaching (found Medical Pract Cancer)
  • Introduction to Experimental Skills (UG)

Postgraduate supervision

Jo has current PhD students investigating:

  • Targetting SUMO pathways for cancer treatment
  • BRCA1 missense changes and the link to breast cancer.

Together with Rob Neely at the School of Chemistry she supervises a student investigating new ways of imaging DNA repair (funded by the EPSRC).

Potential self-funded PhD positions are open within the Morris Lab.

(Please see here for information of fees first then email Jo directly with your CV and research interest).


The work of the group has led to significant contributions identify roles for the small modifiers, ubiquitin and SUMO, in promoting DNA repair and in revealing their potential role in cancer predisposition. These small proteins can quickly change the way that proteins behave – and central requirement for a quick cellular response to damaged DNA, or a stalled replication fork.

We showed that ubiquitin conjugates are located to sites of double-stranded DNA breaks in mammalian cells and their dependency, in part, on the breast and ovarian cancer predisposition protein, BRCA1 (HMG 2004). Examination of the proteasomal deubiquitinating enzyme, POH1 showed it is a key regulator of ubiquitin at damaged chromatin, and controls the amplitude of the subsequent response and regulates a fast type of DNA repair, NHEJ (EMBO J 2012).

Recently the Morris group has shown, for the first time, how BRCA1 acts to oppose 53BP1 and promote homologous recombination, revealing that this ability requires BRCA1 to add ubiquitin to histones to activate the chromatin remodeller SMARCAD1 (NSMB, 2016, Nucleus 2016).

Our model of a disruptive, pleiotropic Brca1 variant (similar to a version found in breast cancer patients) combined with a model from collaborators at the NKI, was the first to recapitulate genetic events of familial breast cancer brought about BRCA1 N-terminal mutations (Cancer Cell 2011). The Brca1 N-terminus is required for genomic stability and tumour suppression but, unexpectedly, its tumours become resistant to agents targeting homologous recombination DNA repair.

In 2009 we were one of the first to report that SUMO regulates several aspects of the response to DNA damage (Nature 2009). SUMO-signalling, while still poorly understood, is now an accepted part of DNA damage signalling.  In 2013 we found that the SUMO protease SENP7 regulates chromatin state and permits DNA repair (EMBO R 2013).

Current and future work aims to establish how SUMO conjugation is activated in by DNA damage, and what SUMOylation does to the proteins it modifies. We aim to establish how BRCA1 protects cells from gene deletions and rearrangements in replication and how cells control the consequences of its E3 Ubiquitin ligase function.

Functions of BRCA1 and the implications for treatment -  Dr Morris speaks with ecancer at the 1st Cancer Research @ Bath Symposium 

Jo is part of the Birmingham Centre for Genome Biology and also works with Colleges at the School of Chemistry.    

Jo also works with researchers at the NKI in the Netherlands:  

and Colleges at the Sussex Genome Stability Centre.

Other activities

Member of Breast Cancer Now Scientific Advisory Board (2015-2018)


Manuel R Daza-Martin, Mohammed Jamshad, Katarzyna Starowicz, Anoop Singh Chauhan, James F.J Beesley, Jennifer Coles, Grant S Stewart, Ruth M Densham, Joanna R Morris  PIN1 isomerisation of BRCA1 promotes replication fork protection. doi: Preprint. BioRxiv.

Alexander J Garvin, Alexandra K Walker, Ruth M Densham, Anoop Singh Chauhan, Helen R Stone, HannahL MacKay, Mohammed Jamshad, Katarzyna Starowicz, Manuel Daza-Martin, Joanna R Morris The deSUMOylase SENP2 coordinates homologous recombination and non-homologous end joining by independent mechanismsdoi: Preprint BioRxiv. In press Genes and Development.

Spiliotopoulos, A., L. Blokpoel Ferreras, R. M. Densham, S. G. Caulton, B. C. Maddison, J. R. Morris, J. E. Dixon, K. C. Gough and I. Dreveny (2018). Discovery of peptide ligands targeting a specific ubiquitin-like domain-binding site in the deubiquitinase USP11.  J Biol Chem. 2018 Oct 29. pii: jbc.RA118.004469. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.004469. [Epub ahead of print]

Uckelmann, M., R. M. Densham, R. Baas, H. H. K. Winterwerp, A. Fish, T. K. Sixma and J. R. Morris  USP48 restrains resection by site-specific cleavage of the BRCA1 ubiquitin mark from H2A(2018). Nat Commun 9(1): 229.

Morris JR, Garvin AJ.  SUMO in the DNA Double-Stranded Break Response: Similarities, Differences and Co-operation with Ubiquitin.  J Mol Biol. 2017 May 17. pii: S0022-2836(17)30227-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2017.05.012. [Epub ahead of print].

Densham RM, Morris JR.  The BRCA1 Ubiquitin ligase function sets a new trend for remodelling in DNA repair.  Nucleus. 2016 Dec 29:1-10. doi: 10.1080/19491034.2016.1267092.

Densham RM, Garvin AJ, Stone HR, Strachan J, Baldock RA, Daza-Martin M, Fletcher A, Blair-Reid S, Beesley J, Johal B, Pearl LH, Neely R, Keep NH, Watts FZ, Morris JR.  Human BRCA1-BARD1 ubiquitin ligase activity counteracts chromatin barriers to DNA resection. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 2016 Jul;23(7):647-55. doi: 10.1038/nsmb.3236.

Alexander J Garvin, Ruth M Densham, Sarah A Blair-Reid, Kenny M Pratt, Helen R Stone, Daniel Weekes, Kirsty J Lawrence and Joanna R MorrisThe deSUMOylase SENP7 promotes chromatin relaxation for homologous recombination DNA repair.EMBO reports (2013), 14, - 975 - 983.

Butler LR, Densham RM, Jia J, Garvin AJ, Stone HR, Shah V, Weekes D, Festy F, Beesley J, Morris J.R.The proteasomal de-ubiquitinating enzyme POH1 promotes the double-strand DNA break response. EMBO J (Dec 2012) Oct 3;31(19):3918-34.

Drost, R., P. Bouwman, S. Rottenberg, U. Boon, E. Schut, S. Klarenbeek, C. Klijn, I. van der Heijden, H. van der Gulden, E. Wientjens, M. Pieterse, A. Catteau, P. Green, E. Solomon, J. R. Morris* and J. Jonkers*, BRCA1 RING Function Is Essential for Tumor Suppression but Dispensable for Therapy Resistance. Cancer Cell (Dec 2011) 20(6): 797-809.

Morris, J.R. More Modifiers Move on DNA Damage, Cancer Research (2010), 15;70(10):3861-3.

Morris, J.R.(2010) SUMO in the mammalian DNA damage response. Biochem Trans. ;38:92-7

Morris, J.R., Boutell, C., Keppler, K., Densham, R., Weekes, D., Alamshah, A., Butler, L., Galanty, Y., Pangon, L., Kiuchi, T., Ng, T. and Solomon, E. (2009) The SUMO modification pathway is involved in the BRCA1 response to genotoxic stress. Nature;462:886-90.

Solomon, E and Morris, J.R. (2009) Chapter 4. Recent advances in understanding the cellular functions of BRCA1. In Welcsh, P.L. (ed.), The Role of Genetics in Breast and Reproductive Cancers. New York, USA. Springer Science + Business Media and Humana Press

Alamshah, A., Springall, R., Gillett, C.E., Solomon, E. and Morris, J.R (2008) Use of a BRCA1 peptide validates MS110 as a BRCA1-specific antibody in immunohistochemistry. Histopathology, 53, 117-20.

Barwell, J., Pangon, L., Hodgson, S., Georgiou, A., Kesterton, I., Slade, T., Taylor, M., Payne, S.J., Brinkman, H., Smythe, J., Sebire, N.J., Solomon, E., Docherty, Z., Camplejohn, R., Homfray, T. and Morris, J.R. (2007) Biallelic mutation of MSH2 in primary human cells is associated with sensitivity to irradiation and altered RAD51 foci kinetics. J Med Genet, 44, 516-20. 

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