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

My research is focussed on variation in the timing of embryonic developmental events within species. 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. 

To facilitate this research we have designed and built unique automated bio-imaging systems. These systems allow us to perform high resolution (temporal and spatial) time-lapse bio-imaging throughout the development of large numbers of aquatic embryos. This capacity is unique and provides a powerful tool for studying how organisms during their early life stages are shaped, and respond to, changes in their environment. The technology has been applied to studying the responses of a wide range of aquatic species to different environments, and to how these responses change during embryonic development. 

We have developed novel motion analysis software, adding automated analytical function to our bio-imaging hardware. Our goal is to develop fully automated high-dimensional-organismal-phenotyping capacity and we are focussing our efforts on achieving this via a range of analytical methods.

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

Tills, O., Spicer, J. & Rundle, S. 2010. Salinity-induced heterokairy in an upper-estuarine population of the snail Radix balthica(Mollusca: Pulmonata). Aquatic Biology 9: 95–105.

Tills, O., Rundle, S.D., Salinger, M., Haun, T., Pfenninger, M. & Spicer, J.I. 2011. A genetic basis for intraspecific differencesin developmental timing? Evolution & Development 13: 542–548.

Spicer, J.I., Rundle, S.D. & Tills, O. 2011. Studying the altered timing of physiological events during development: It's about time... or is it? Respiratory physiology & neurobiology 178: 3–12.

Tills, O., Bitterli, T., Culverhouse, P. Spicer, J.I. & Rundle, S.D. 2013. A novel application of motion analysis for detecting stress responses in embryos at different stages of development. BMC Bioinformatics 14: 3-.

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

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

Rudin-Bitterli, T.S., Tills, O., Spicer, J.I., Culverhouse, P.F., Wielhouwer, E.M., Richardson, M.K., Rundle, S.D. 2014. Combining motion analysis and microfluidics - A novel approach for detecting whole-animal responses to test substances. PLoS ONE, 9: e113235.

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

Tills, O., Sun, X., Rundle, S.D., Heimbach, T., Gibson, T., Cartwright, A., Palmer, M., Rudin-Bitterle, T,. Spicer, J.I. 2016. Reduced pH affects pulsing behaviour and body size in ephyrae of the moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita. JEMBE, 480: 54-61.

Truebano, M., Tills, O., Spicer, J.I. 2016. Embryonic transcriptome of the brackish water amphipod Gammarus chevreuxi. Marine Genomics. DOI:10.1016/j.margen.2016.02.002

Other academic activities

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



Videos of developing aquatic embryos produced in our lab