Jonathan Morris

Jonathan Morris

Jonathan Morris

B.Sc. (Hons) UWA 1990, Ph.D. (ANU) 1994, CChem, FRACI

Professor and Dean of Graduate Research

Contact details

Phone: +61 2 9385 1903


Room 227, Dalton Building
UNSW, Kensington, 2052

Research Group Website


Biographical Details

Graduate of the University of Western Australia (B.Sc.(Hons 1), 1990) and the Australian National University (Ph.D., 1994). Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Texas at Austin (1994-1996). Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, University of Canterbury (1997-2004). Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, University of Adelaide (2004-2009). Associate Professor at UNSW (2009-2017). Deputy Dean of Graduate Research at UNSW (2015-2017). Professor at UNSW (2018-present). Dean of Graduate Research (2019-present).

Research Interests

Research in the Morris group is mainly focused on the synthesis of naturally occurring compounds that have profound biological activities, with the aim of using these molecules to help answer questions of importance in biology and medicine. To be able to do this, we must develop new strategies and generate new methodologies so that we can prepare molecules in an efficient and reliable manner. Working on such projects provides excellent training in synthetic and medicinal chemistry.

Our work on variolin B provides an illustration of our approach. Variolin B is a marine alkaloid isolated from an extremely rare Antarctic sponge, which has emerged as an important lead for drug discovery and development. We devised the first synthetic route to variolin B, restoring access to this valuable material. In collaboration with Prof Laurent Meijer (CNRS, France) we have determined that the variolins are potent protein kinase inhibitors. X-ray crystallography of variolin B bound to the CDK2-cyclin A protein complex has provided us with a clear idea of how the compound binds in the active site. With this information, we are currently focused on developing the biomedical potential of the variolins and related alkaloids.

Synthesis of biologically active molecules

Other projects currently running include:

  • Total synthesis of the naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids
  • Application of the Diels-Alder reaction to the synthesis of biologically important molecules
  • development of PP2A activators for the treatment of asthma and cancer
  • development of ceramide synthesase inhibitors 

Selected Publications

  • “A selective inhibitor of ceramide synthase 1 reveals a novel role in fat metabolism”, Turner, N,; Lim, X. Y.;Toop, H.D.; Osborne, B.; Brandon, A.E.; Taylor, E.N.; Fiveash, C.E.; Govindaraju, H.; Teo, J.D.; McEwen, H.P.; Couttas, T.A.; Butler, S.F.; Das, A.; Kowalski, G.M.; Bruce, C.R.; Hoehn, K.L.; Fath, T.; Schmitz-Peiffer, C.; Coney, G.J.; Montgomery, M.K.; Morris, J.C.; Don, A.S. Nature Commun. 2018, 21; 9(1): 3165.
  • “Concise Total Synthesis of Dioncophylline E via an ortho-Arylation Strategy”, Toop, H.D.; Brusnahan, J.S.; Morris, J. C. Angew. Chemie Int. Engl. Ed. 201756, 8536-8538.
  • “Development of Potent, Selective SRPK1 Inhibitors as Potential Topical Therapeutics for Neovascular Eye Disease”, Batson, J.; Toop, H.D.; Redondo, C.; Babaei-Jadidi. R.; Chaikuad. A, Wearmouth, S.F.; Gibbons, B.; Allen, C.; Tallant. C.; Zhang. J.; Du. C.; Hancox, J.C.; Hawtrey, T.; Da Rocha, J.; Griffith, R.; Knapp, S.; Bates, D.O.; Morris, J.CACS Chem. Biol. 201712(3), 825-832. 
  • “Pharmacology of modulators of alternative splicing”, Bates, D. O.; Morris, J. C.; Oltean, S.; Donaldson, L. F. Pharmacol. Rev.201769(1), 63-79.
  • "The Variolins and Related Alkaloids", Walker, S. R.; Carter, E. J.; Huff, B. C.; Morris, J. C., Chem. Rev. 2009, 3080.
  • "Synthesis, protein kinase inhibitory activity and cytotoxicity of 3-(pyrimidin-4-yl)-7-azaindoles (meriolins). CDK2/cyclin A/meriolin and CDK2/cyclin A/variolin B crystal structures", Echalier, A.; Bettayeb, K.; Ferandin, Y.; Lozach, O.; Clement, M.; Valette, A.; Liger, F.; Marquet, B.; Morris, J.C.; Endicott, J.; Joseph, B.; Meijer, L., J. Med. Chem. 2008, 51, 735.
  • "Meriolins, a new class of cell death-inducing, cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors with enhanced selectivity for CDK9", Bettayeb, K.; Tirado, O. M.; Marionneau-Lambot, S.; Ferandin, Y.; Lozach, O.; Morris, J.C.; Mateo-Lozano, S.; Drückes, P.; Schächtele, C.; Kubbutat, M.; Liger, F.; Marquet, B.; Joseph, B.; Echalier, A.; Endicott, J.; Notario, V.; Meijer, L., Cancer Research, 2007, 67, 8325-8334.
  • "Total Synthesis of the 7,3'-Linked Naphthylisoquinoline Alkaloid Ancistrocladidine", Bungard, C. J.; Morris, J. C. J. Org. Chem. 2006, 71, 7354-7363.
  • "Concise Total Syntheses of Variolin B and Deoxyvariolin B", Anderson, R. J.; Hill, J. B.; Morris, J. C., J. Org. Chem., 2005, 70, 6204 -6212.
  • "First Total Synthesis of the 7,3'-Linked Naphthylisoquinoline Alkaloid Ancistrocladidine", Bungard, C. J., Morris, J. C., Organic Lett., 2002, 4, 631-633.
  • "Total Synthesis of Variolin B", Anderson, R. J.; Morris, J. C., Tetrahedron Lett. 2001, 42, 8697-8699.