Early development is the most dynamic period of an organism’s life history - a time during which they must put themselves together, whilst maintaining a functional phenotype. It is also a time at which temporal, spatial and functional changes are at their greatest and the impacts of biological responses during early development can have significant influences on later life stages, ultimately affecting fitness and ecological processes.
Dr Oliver Tills adopts an interdisciplinary approach to his research and a key emphasis of this is the development and application of new technology-enabled approaches to understanding the dynamic process of embryonic development. He has led the development of EmbryoPhenomics – a unique technological platform, which combines the use of bioimaging hardware and analytical software to automate the high-throughput screening of hundreds of aquatic embryos (Tills et al 2018). A lack of such high-throughput technologies has been identified as a key bottleneck in Biology and this is particularly true for developing organisms in which the complexity of biological responses is significant.
Dr Tills has used EmbryoPhenomics to generate machine proxy traits (MPTs), which are measurments made using computer vision approaches and provide an holistic, objective way of studying the response of the organism. These MPTs are currently being used to test theoretical models for predicting how development is affected by climate change, including whether they can be used to predict effects to success in later life. A current focus of Dr Tills is to apply deep learning to integrate the thousands of different biological variables that are measured using EmbryoPhenomics during the course of an organisms’ development to model the complex response of embryos to mixed and fluctuating environmental drivers in their natural environments.