Dr Oliver Tills

Dr Oliver Tills

Teaching and Research Associate (Marine Biology)

School of Biological & Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science & Engineering)


Teaching and Research Associate in the School of Biological and Marine Science


PhD Marine Science

MRes Marine Biology

BSc Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology

Professional membership

Society for Experimental Biology (SEB)

Genetics Society

British Science Association

European Evolutionary Developmental Biology Society

Research interests

I am fascinated by the dynamic process of embryonic development in aquatic organisms. During this process there are complex and interconnected changes happen on a second, minute, hour and daily timescale and this includes changes in morphology, physiology and behaviour. 

My research focusses on understanding the implications of this variation for ecological and evolutionary processes. This has required the development of new technologies and approaches for capturing the dynamic process of embryonic development in unprecedented temporal, spatial and functional resolution. EmbryoPhenomics http://www.embryophenomics.org is a high-throughput technology that incorporates bioimaging hardware and software and which quantifies the process of embryonic development in new ways. While I am a biologist by training, I have spent a significant portion of my time developing new bioimaging technologies and writing software for high-throughput image- and data-analysis in Python and R.

I am currently focussed on applying these technologies to assessing how embryos are responding to the unprecedented rates of both global and local environmental change. I am also developing new analytical approaches to integrating and understanding complex biological responses within the context of phenomics. This has been identified as a major bottleneck throughout biology and one which is in stark contrast to the technological advances observed in the molecular -omic disciplines. I actively engage and incorporate students in all aspects of my research activities and enjoy integrating my research and teaching activities. 

Previous research highlights include demonstrating that variation in the timing of embryonic developmental events within species could be central to ecological and evolutionary processes. Evolution occurs through changes in the way organisms develop and therefore understanding how these changes occur is fundamental to understanding development, ecology and evolution. Changes in the timing of development between species (heterochrony) has been widely documented and has been proposed by some scientists as the main mechanism of evolution. I showed that variation within a species can have a genetic basis and that embryos actually inherit the timing of developmental events from their parents https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24078-time-lapse-footage-shows-snail-embryo-in-high-gear/.

See http://vimeo.com/channels/embryonicdevelopment for videos of developing aquatic embryos produced in our lab. See also http://www.discoverosmosis.com, our proof of concept digital learning resource developed for Discovery Learning in secondary schools.

Tills O, Spicer JI, Grimmer A, Marini S, Jie VW, Tully E, Rundle SD. 2018. A high-throughput and open-source platform for embryo phenomics. PLoS Biology, in press.

Spicer JI, Tills O, Truebano M, Rundle SD. 2018. Developmental Plasticity and Heterokairy. Book Chapter In: Development and Environment, Springer, Switzerland. Eds: Burggren W, Dubansky B.

Tills O, Truebano M, Feldmeyer B, Pfenninger M, Morgenroth H, Schell T, et al. 2018. Transcriptomic responses to predator kairomones in embryos of the aquatic snail Radix balthica. Ecology and Evolution. 201831:79–12. 

Truebano M, Fenner P, Tills O, Rundle SD, Rezende EL. 2018. Thermal strategies vary with life history stage. Journal of Experimental Biology 221: jeb171629–5.

Truebano M, Tills O, Collins M, Clarke C, Shipsides E, Wheatley C, et al. 2018. Short-term acclimation in adults does not predict offspring acclimation potential to hypoxia. Scientific Reports, 8:1-9.

Schell T, Feldmeyer B, Schmidt H, Greshake B, Tills O, Truebano M, Rundle SD, Paule S, Ebersberger I, Pfenninger M 2017. An annotated draft genome for Radix auricularia (Gastropoda, Mollusca). Genome Biology and Evolution 9: 585-592.

Tills O, Sun X, Rundle SD, Heimbach T, Gibson T, Cartwright A, Palmer M, Rudin-Bitterli T & Spicer JI 2016. Reduced pH affects pulsing behavior and body size in ephrae of the moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 480: 54-61.

Truebano M, Tills O& Spicer JI 2016. Embryonic transcriptome of the brackishwater amphipod Gammarus chevreuxi. Marine Genomics 28: 5-6

Tills O, Truebano M & Rundle SD 2015. An embryonic transcriptome of the pulmonate snail Radix balthica. Marine Genomics 24: 259-260.

Rudin-Bitterli TS, Tills O, Spicer JI, Culverhouse PF, Wielhouwer EM, Richardson MK & Rundle SD 2014. Combining motion analysis and microfluidics – A novel approach for detecting whole- animal responses to test substances. PloS ONE 9: e113235.

Tills O, Bitterli T, Culverhouse P, Spicer JI & Rundle SD 2013. A novel application of motion analysis for detecting stress responses in embryos at different stages of development. BMC Bioinformatics 14: 37.

Tills O, Rundle SD & Spicer JI 2013. Variance in developmental event timing is greatest at low biological levels: implications for heterochrony. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 110: 581-590.

Tills O, Rundle SD & Spicer JI 2013. Parent-offspring similarity in the timing of developmental events: an origin of heterochrony? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 280: 1769.

Spicer JI, Rundle SD & Tills O2011. Studying the altered timing of physiological events during development: It’s about time, or is it? Respiratory Physiology and Neurobiology 178: 3-12.

Tills O, Rundle SD, Culverhouse P, Spicer JI & Bitterli TS 2011. Method and system for determining characteristics of an embryo and uses thereof. Patent, World Intellectual Property Organization.

Tills O, Rundle SD, Salinger M, Haun T, Pfenninger M & Spicer JI 2011. A genetic basis for intraspecific differences in developmental timing? Evolution and Development 13: 542-548.

Tills O, Spicer JI & Rundle SD 2010. Salinity-induced heterokairy in an upper-estuarine population of the snail Radix balthica. Aquatic Biology 9: 95-105.

Other academic activities

Finalist for the award - Postgraduate Research Student of the Year 2011



Videos of developing aquatic embryos produced in our lab