Gillis Lab


Principle Investigator


Dr. Todd Gillis got his BSc and MSc from the University of Guelph and his PhD from Simon Fraser University. Dr. Gillis then worked in the Department of Bioengineering in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington as an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Gillis joined the University of Guelph as an Assistant Professor in 2005. The work in the Gillis Lab is focused upon the vertebrate heart and the mechanisms that regulate its function. Please take a look at the research pages for further detail.

[email protected]


Post Doctoral Fellows


Dr. Sarah Alderman My research interests span functional systems, regulatory levels, and life history stages of fish with a focus on how an animal’s physiology changes in response to environmental stressors. I am specifically interested in the regulation of the neuroendocrine stress response, and how elevated cortisol levels affect brain and heart function to modify physiology and behavior. My research employs both model and non-model fish species (ex. zebrafish and Pacific salmon) to address specific questions on the mechanisms and consequences of stressor-induced changes to physiology. Currently, I am investigating how exposure to diluted bitumen during development impacts aerobic performance and behavior in sockeye salmon, and identifying the underlying subcellular mechanisms associated with these effects through advanced genetic, proteomic, and histochemical analyses.


Graduate Students



Elizabeth Johnston I completed a B.Sc. in Marine and Freshwater Biology at the University of Guelph before taking an extra year to immerse myself in an undergraduate thesis project with Dr. Todd Gillis. This experience with research allowed me to segue into a M.Sc. degree in Dr. Gillis’ lab, where after a year of study I decided to transfer into a Ph.D. program in order to expand upon several research questions.

My main area of interest lies in the molecular mechanisms that regulate tissue remodeling in the hearts of rainbow trout. During thermal acclimation, the ventricles of male trout undergo significant changes in muscle fibre bundle area and extracellular connective tissue deposition. Currently I am focusing on the response of ventricular fibroblast cells to cytokine signaling and post-transcriptional mRNA modification. In the future I will look at both hormonal and mechanical factors that may play a role in initiating and maintaining the signals necessary for cardiac remodeling.




Lauren Gatrell    My MSc research is examining how the hagfish heart is able to maintain function during prolonged periods of anoxia exposure. Specifically, how changes in environmental oxygen influence fuel utilization. This project aims to determine the role that lipids plays in anoxic metabolism  through examining enzyme activities, changes in metabolite concentrations and histological studies.




Calli Freedman    




Sarah Schorno   

My life long love of animals led me to completing my Hon. BSc at Guelph in  Zoology. During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to volunteer with College Royal showing a dairy cow, learn to ID and sort aquatic insect samples from water bodies in the area with Trout Unlimited Canada, and assist with teaching labs for the Invertebrate Zoology classes. Like a lot of other undergrads at Guelph, I wanted to go into the veterinary medicine stream, but during my third and fourth year, I worked as an NSERC USRA in Dr. Stephen Marshall’s insect taxonomy lab and fell in love with research. My experiences on an entomology field course to Vietnam in fourth year really solidified my interest in research. This newfound love of research led me to doing my current graduate degree in Dr. Douglas Fudge’s lab at Guelph, studying hagfish slime.
  • Doctor of Philosophy: Integrative Biology – 2013-present (expected 2018)
    University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario
  • Bachelor of Science: Honours Zoology – 2013
    University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario
Select Publications
  • Fudge, D.S., and Schorno, S.* (2016). The hagfish gland thread cell: a fibre-producing cell involved in predator defense. Cells. 5(2), 25.
  • Icardo, J.M., Colvee, E., Schorno, S.*, Lauriano, E.R., Fudge, D.S., Glover, C.N., and Zaccone, G. (2016). Morphological analysis of the hagfish heart. II. The venous pole and the pericardium. Journal of Morphology.
  • Icardo, J.M., Colvee, E., Schorno, S.*, Lauriano, E.R., Fudge, D.S., Glover, C.N., and Zaccone, G. (2015). Morphological analysis of the hagfish heart. I. The ventricle, the arterial connection and the ventral aorta. Journal of Morphology, 277(3): 326-340.
  • Newman, A.E.M., Edmunds, N., Ferraro, S., Heffell, Q., Merrit, G.M., Pakkala, J.J., Schilling, C., and Schorno, S.* (2015). Using ecology to inform physiology studies: implications of high population density in the laboratory. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology ajpregu-00328.
  • Fudge, D.S., Schorno, S.*, and Ferraro, S. (2014). Physiology, biomechanics and biomimetics of hagfish slime. Annual Review of Biochemistry, 84: 947-967.




Yuwen Ding



Sean Avey

My research is investigating the impact that diluted bitumen exposure has on juvenile Atlantic salmon, and how their ability to migrate may be limited. This project aims to determine the physiological responses to diluted bitumen at i) the whole animal level, using a standardized swimming test to assess aerobic performance, ii) the tissue level, using histological methods to look at muscle cell and tissue damage, iii) the biochemical level, using enzyme assays to determine the metabolic pathways that are being used at rest and during exercise, and iv) at the molecular level, using qPCR to look at markers of cytotoxicity in various tissues.


Undergraduate Researchers


Sierra Sutcliffe I am currently working on completing my Hon. BSc with double majors in Zoology and Molecular Biology & Genetics. My research project focuses on describing the composition of actin in zebrafish hearts during the first 7 days of development. Unlike humans, zebrafish have multiple cardiac actin isoforms, and a switch has been observed in the predominant isoform around 72 hours post fertilization. I am hoping to quantify this change and explore the reasons as to why it might occur.

Sophy Ding I am currently completing my BSc in Zoology with a Math minor. Living at high altitudes adds additional stress for an animal in terms of increased thermogenic and metabolic demands. My undergraduate thesis project involves studying the differences in diaphragm myofilament function between high and low altitude deer mice under hypoxia acclimation. In addition, we are interested in see if phosphorylation in skeletal troponin complexes play a role in regulating force generation and calcium sensitivity in muscles as they do in the heart.


Post Doctoral Fellows

Dr. Laura Dindia, 2014

Project: Identification of serum biomarkers in salmonids to detect cardiac and skeletal damage to improve the monitor of salmonid health in farmed and wild populations

Graduate Students

Ms. Elizabeth Sears, MSc 2011-2014
Thesis title. Evolution of cardiac troponin function in vertebrates
Current position Research technician, Biodiversity institute of Ontario

Dr. Jordan Klaiman, PhD, 2007- 2013
Thesis title: The effects of thermal acclimation on the functional properties of the trout myocardium
Current position: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada PDF, Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle WA.

Ms. Nicole Pinto, MSc, 2010-2012, Co-supervisor: Dr. Doug Fudge
Thesis title. Production of a bio-polymer from recombinant vimentin
Current position: PhD Student, Western University

Ms. Silvana Miller
, MSc, 2008-2010, Co-supervisor: Dr. Pat Wright
Thesis title: Effect of hypoxia exposure on the development of the cardio-respiratory system in rainbow trout
Current position: Research Associate, Humber College

Ms. Kelly Kirkpatrick, MSc 2006-2009
Thesis Title: Cloning and functional characterization of trout cardiac troponin I
Current position: Lab Instructor, Bishop Straughn High School Toronto

Undergraduate Thesis Students Supervised

** = thesis published in peer reviewed journal

Mr. Sean Avey, 2014-2016, title:Consequence of Green florescent protein expression on the metabolic rate and aerobic fitness of zebrafish.

Mr. Craig Jurkiewicz, 2014-2016, title:The effects of chronic diurnal hypoxia and exercise training on the cardiovascular system of rainbow trout (Onycorhychus mykiss).

Ms. Laura Shaw, 2014-2016, title:The effects of diurnal hypoxia and exercise on neuroplasticity in juvenile rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Mr. David Bakker, 2014-2015,  title: Influence of cold acclimation on the metabolism of swimming zebrafish.

Ms. Ariana Bonder,  2014-2015,  title: Role of TGF-b in the regulation of trout cardiac fibroblasts

Mr. Abiran Sritharan, 2013-2014 title: Influence of cold acclimation on the aerobic fitness of zebrafish.
Current Position, MSc Student, University of Guelph

**Ms. Amy Johnston, 2013,  title: Influence of cold acclimation on the histology and connective tissue content of the zebrafish heart.
Current Position: PhD Student University of Alberta

Ms. Melanie Barry, 2013,  title: Influence of cold acclimation on the expression and phosphorylation of SERCA and phospholamban in the hearts of the burbot and crucean carp

**Ms. Elizabeth Johnston2013-2014,  title: Influence of hypoxia exposure during embryonic development on the aerobic capacity of trout fry. 2011-2012
Current Position: PhD Student Guelph

Ms. Elizabeth Sears, 2012-2013,  title: Influence of chronic hypoxia exposure on the expression of the cardiac contractile proteins during ontogeny of the rainbow trout.
Current position Research technician Biodiversity institute of Ontario

**Ms. Courtney Deck, 2012-2013,  title: Influence of Cold Acclimation on TnI expression in the cardiac, slow skeletal, and fast skeletal muscle of the rainbow trout.
Current position: PhD Student U Ottawa.

Ms. Nicole Pinto, 2011-2012,  title: Cloning of cardiac troponin T from the trout.
Current position: PhD Student, Western University

**Mr. Andrew Robertson,  2011-2012,  title: Role of PKA phosphorylation in the regulation of cardiac troponin function 2009-2010
Current position: Medical Doctor, University of Toronto

Ms. Emily Van de Laar, 2011-2012,  title: Application of DIGE to studying contractile protein phosphorylation.
Completed MSc University of Guelph

**Ms. Silvana Miller, 2007-2008, title: Influence of chronic hypoxia exposure on the metabolic rate of salmonid embryos during development.
Completed MSc University of Guelph

Ms. Caley Nadon, 2007-2008 title: Changes in the expression of troponin I mRNA during development.
Current position: Dentist, Toronto

Ms. Brechan McGooey, 2006-2007 title: Changes in heart rate of rainbow trout embryos during hypoxia exposure.
Current position: High school science teacher, Toronto

Ms. Heather Freamo, 2005-2006, title: Ca2+ sensitivity of actin myosin activity in the trout heart.
Completed MSc, University of Guelph