University of Calgary

Douglas Syme

  • Professor
  • Integrative Cell Biology

Research Interests

  • muscle physiology (whole muscle to subcellular)
  • animal locomotion
  • energetics of contraction and movement
  • comparative cardiovascular physiology 

My interests lie in comparative muscle physiology, animal locomotion, and comparative cardiovascular physiology.

Muscles come in many designs and are used in diverse fashions. Most vertebrates and many invertebrates possess different cell types within a single muscle, ranging from those that shorten very fast to very slow, and having varying degrees of fatigueability, preferred energy substrate, twitch speed, power output, etc. It is believed this blend allows a single muscle to perform in different ways depending on the task at hand. We study the mechanical performance of muscle, how designs at the cellular level translate into performance, and how the structures through which muscles transmit energy (e.g. tendons) impact the ability of muscles to do work and ultimately produce movement.

Current projects include:  how stretch of muscle impacts subsequent contractions, force production and work output; how various types of contractions impact the energy used by muscles and subsequently the efficiency of muscle contraction; how muscles are recruited during swimming in fish to produce thrust and control movement; the effects of temperature on muscle contraction and control of movement; modeling and empirical studies of the effects of tendon compliance on muscle performance.  

We have ongoing collaborative projects in areas of tuna and shark muscle physiology, swimming biomechanics and cardiovascular function in fishes with national and international collaborators.

Graduate Students

Current Graduate Students  
Theresa McCaffrey    MSc 2017-
Natalie Tsao               MSc 2017-
Scott Seamone  PhD 2014-
Past Graduate Students  
Jordan Roberts           M.Sc. 2016
Alex Hume                M.Sc. 2012
David McGillivray    M.Sc. 2011
Andrew Betik            Ph.D. 2009
Michael Butcher (co-sup)    Ph.D. 2006
Collin Struthers         M.Sc. 2004

Michael Grattan      

 M.Sc. 2003
Dan O’Connell          M.Sc. 2002
Aparna Nirdosh         M.Sc. 2001


2004 - Faculty of Science Award for Excellence in Teaching

Selected Publications


  • Roberts, J. C., & Syme, D. A. 2016. Effects of Using Tricaine Methanesulfonate and Metomidate before Euthanasia on the Contractile Properties of Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) Myocardium. Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, 55(5):565- 569.
  • Kenneth J. Rodnick, A. Kurt Gamperl, Gordon W. Nash, Douglas A. Syme. 2014. Temperature and sex dependent effects on cardiac mitochondrial metabolism in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua L.). Journal of Thermal Biology. 44, 110–118.   DOI: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2014.02.012
  • T.E. Higham, K.R. Lipsett, D.A. Syme, and A.P. Russell. 2013. Controlled Chaos: Three-Dimensional Kinematics, Fiber Histochemistry, and Muscle Contractile Dynamics of Autotomized Lizard Tails. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 86(6): 611-630.
  • D.A. Syme, A.K. Gamperl, G.W. Nash, and K.J. Rodnick. 2013. Increased ventricular stiffness and decreased cardiac function in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) at high temperatures. Am. J. Physiol, Regul Comp Integ Physiol. 305(8), R864-876.
  • J.M. Donley, C.A. Sepulveda, S.A. Aalbers, D.G. McGillivray, D.A. Syme, D. Bernal. 2012. Effects of temperature on power and contraction kinetics of regionally endothermic locomotor muscle of the common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus). Journal of Fish Physiology and Biochemistry. 38, 1507–1519.
  • Syme, D.A., and Shadwick, R.E. 2011. Red muscle function in stiff-bodied swimmers: There and almost back again.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 366, 1507-1515.
  • D. Bernal, J.M. Donley, D.G. McGillivray, S.A. Aalbers, D.A. Syme, C. Sepulveda. 2010. Function of the medial red muscle during sustained swimming in common thresher sharks: Contrast and convergence with thunniform swimmers. Comp. Biochem. Physiol, Part A 155, 454–463.
  • Gollock, M.J., Hunter, K., Syme, D.A., Freeman, M.R., McKinley, S., Gamperl, A.K.  2009. Potential methods for measuring the activity patterns and energy use of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Can. J. Fish. Aquatic Sci. 66(7), 1095-1106.
  • E.M. Dlugosz, M.A. Chappell, D.G. McGillivray, D.A. Syme, T. Garland, Jr. 2009. Locomotor trade-offs in mice selectively bred for high voluntary wheel running. J. Exp. Biol. 212, 2612-2618
  • D.G. McGillivray, T. Garland, Jr., E.M. Dlugosz, M.A. Chappell, and D.A. Syme. 2009. Changes in efficiency and myosin expression in the small-muscle phenotype of mice selectively bred for high voluntary running activity. J. Exp. Biol. 212, 977-985.
  • Shadwick, R.E. and Syme, D.A. 2008. Thunniform swimming: muscle dynamics and mechanical power production of aerobic fibres in yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares).  J. Exp. Biol. 211, 1603-1611.
  • Syme, D.A., Gollock, M., Freeman, M.J., Gamperl, A.. 2008. Power isn’t everything:  muscle function and energetic costs during steady swimming in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Physiol. Biochem. Zool. 81(3): 320–335.
  • Trinh, M. and Syme, D.A. 2007. Effects of stretch on work and efficiency of frog (Rana pipiens) muscle. J. Exp. Biol.  210, 2843-2850.
  • Donley, J.M., Shadwick, R.E., Sepulveda, C.A. and Syme, D.A. 2007.  Thermal dependence of contractile properties of the aerobic locomotor muscle in the leopard shark and shortfin mako shark. J. Exp. Biol. 210: 1194-1203.
  • Syme, D.A. 2006. Functional Properties of Skeletal Muscle. In Fish Physiology: Fish Biomechanics, vol 23. pp 179-240. Eds. R.E. Shadwick and G.V. Lauder, series Eds. D.J. Randall and A.P. Farrell. Academic Press, Elsevier.
  • Syme, D.A., A.K. Gamperl, M.H. Braun and D.R. Jones. 2006. Wave reflection effects in the central circulation of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis): what the heart sees. Am. J. Physiol. Heart Circ. Physiol. 291: H1670-1678.
  • Bernal, D., J.M. Donley, R.E. Shadwick and D.A. Syme. 2005. Mammal-like muscles power swimming in a cold-water shark. Nature. 437: 1349-1352.
  • Syme, D.A., K. Evashuk, B. Grintuch, E.L. Rezende, and T. Garland, Jr. 2005. Contractile abilities of normal and “mini” triceps surae muscles from mice (Mus domesticus) selectively bred for high voluntary wheel running. J. Appl. Physiol. 99: 1308-1316.
  • Syme, D.A. and Tonks, D.M. 2004. Fatigue and recovery of dynamic and steady-state performance in frog skeletal muscle. Am J. Physiol. 286, R916-926.
  • Syme, D.A. and R.E. Shadwick. 2002. Effects of longitudinal body position and swimming speed on mechanical power of deep red muscle from skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis).  J. Exp. Biol. 205(2). 189-200.
  • Syme, D.A., A.K. Gamperl & D.R. Jones.  2002. Delayed depolarization of the cog-wheel valve and pulmonary-to-systemic shunting in alligators. J. Exp. Biol. 205: 1843-1851.
  • Syme, D.A. & M.J. Grattan. 2002. Effects of stretch on work from fast and slow muscles of mice: damped and undamped energy release. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 80: 887-900.
  • Wakeling, J. & D.A. Syme. 2002. Wave properties of action potentials from fast and slow motor units of rats.  Muscle Nerve. 26:659-668.
  • Katz, S.L., D.A. Syme & R.E. Shadwick. 2001. High-speed swimming: Enhanced power in yellowfin tuna.  Nature. 12 April, vol 410: 770-771.
  • Rome, L.C., C. Cook, D.A. Syme, M.A. Connaughton, M. Ashley-Ross, A. Klimov, B. Tikunov & Y.E. Goldman. 1999. Trading force for speed: why superfast cross-bridge kinetics leads to super low forces. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. May 11, 96(10):5826-31.
  • Rome, L.C., D.A. Syme, S. Hollingworth, S.L. Lindstedt & S.H. Baylor. 1996, July 23. The whistle and the rattle: the design of sound producing muscles. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. 93(15): 8095-8100.
  • Syme, D.A., & R.K. Josephson. 1995. Influence of muscle length on work from trabecular muscle of frog atrium and ventricle. J. Exp. Biol. 198: 2221-2227.
  • Johnson, T.P., D.A. Syme, B.C. Jayne, G.V. Lauder, & A.F. Bennett. 1994. Modeling red muscle power output during steady and unsteady swimming in largemouth bass. Am. J. Physiol. 267: R481-488.
  • Syme, D.A. 1994. The efficiency of frog ventricular muscle.  J. Exp. Biol. 197: 143-164.


  • Seamone, S. and D.A. Syme. 2015.  Muscle Structure and Mechanical Properties.  In  Fish Physiology: Physiology of Elasmobranch Fishes, vol 34A. pp 190-214. Eds.  R.E. Shadwick, A.P. Farrell, C.J. Brauner, series Eds A. P. Farrell, C. J. Brauner.
  • Syme, D.A. 2011. Functional Properties of Skeletal Muscle - Work Loops (article 217). In Encyclopedia of Fish Physiology. From Genome to Environment  Ed. R.E. Shadwick, series Ed. A.P. Farrell. Elsevier ISBN 13: 978-0-12-374545-3.
  • Syme, D.A. 2006. Functional Properties of Skeletal Muscle. In Fish Physiology: Fish Biomechanics, vol 23. pp 179-240. Eds. R.E. Shadwick and G.V. Lauder, series Eds. D.J. Randall and A.P. Farrell. Academic Press, Elsevier.



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