Professor Howard Foster

Professor of Microbiology

  • Peel Building Room G50
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I did my degree in Biochemistry at the University of Leeds and stayed on to do my PhD in Microbial Biochemistry of the social soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus with Dr Howard Parish. I spent three years as a postdoc in the Microbiology Unit at the University of Oxford working on sporulation in Bacillus subtilis under Joel Mandelstam and three years with Dr Colin Clarke at the University of East Anglia working on the developmental cycle in Myxococcus. I was appointed lecturer in Microbiology here at Salford in 1978. Initially I continued working with myxobacteria looking for novel antibiotics but through collaborative work I developed an interest in a number of different bacteria including Streptococcus spp. and Staphylococcus aureus and, more recently on infection control surfaces. This has given me an excellent background in Microbiology.


I am responsible for teaching basic aspects of microbiology, especially bacteria and viruses at level 4, Microbial Physiology and Research Skills at level 2 and Biotechnology and Medical and Public Health Microbiology at level 6. I also make contributions to modules in Applied Hydrobiology and Ecology and Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases at level 6. At level 7 I contribute to Communicable Diseases and Public Health and Biotechnology. I also supervise research projects at levels 6 and 7.

Research Interests

My main research interests are in Medical and Clinical Microbiology and in Food/Environmental/Plant Microbiology, isolation, testing and characterisation of novel antimicrobials, oral/intestinal Microbiology and the role of pre- and pro-biotics, and cancer research.

Self cleaning and self disinfecting surfaces

Staphylococcus aureus remains one of the major causes of health care associated infections (HCAI). Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA; the “superbug” of the popular press) make treatment of infections difficult and the evolution of virulent Community-Acquired (CA-MRSA) strains mean that S. aureus infections remain a serious threat to health. Another organism that causes HCAI is Clostridium difficile, a problem because it produces endospores which are resistant to disinfectants. Although MRSA and C.difficile are the organisms that get most attention in the press, other microorganisms are also threats to health e.g. Vancomycin resistant enterococci,  Acinetobacter baumanni and multiply antibiotic resistant Gram-negative bacteria as they can colonise the hospital environment. Elimination of microorganisms on surfaces is being increasingly recognised as an important part of infection control. The conventional method of reducing bacterial numbers is by chemical disinfection. This is not effective long term, as recontamination during the use of surfaces occurs. A variety of chemical types are used e.g. chlorine compounds, quaternary ammonium compounds (QAC), phenols, aldehydes, biguanides, halogens, hydrogen peroxide and peroxy acids. The process is difficult to standardise and the actions themselves are time consuming and labour intensive. As well as this there are problems associated with the aggressive chemicals used such as skin irritation and allergies. Bacteria can also become resistant to the disinfectant used.

A more recently introduced method is the use of surfaces such as glass, metal or ceramics coated with a thin layer of SiO2 or TiO2 together with antimicrobial metals such as Ag or Cu. Combined SiO2-metal surfaces are very durable and, in standard laboratory tests, are highly antimicrobial. We are currently developing standardised methods for evaluating the biocidal activity that reflect their “in use” activity and are testing novel coatings prepared by the CVD group in the IMR as part of an EEC FP7 funded programme. Coatings of TiO2 combined with metals have antimicrobial and self-cleaning activities. The team includes a Research Technician and PhD students Iram Ditta (writing up), Mohammed Abohtera and Souad El Fakhri. Undergraduate Paul Fitton worked on the project during the summer of 2009 funded by the Society for Applied Microbiology through their “Students into work” scheme. Erasmus student Nils Rutschke spent the summer of 2010 working in the lab and has returned to the University of Bremen.

The work is partially financed by the EC FP7 “Flexible production technologies and equipment based on atmospheric pressure plasma processing for 3D nano-structured surfaces (Acronym N2P)” (€854,000) joint with D.W.Sheel which commenced in June 2008. Further allocations of €30,000 and €100,000 were agreed in 2009 and 2010.

Pathogenicity of Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is the most common cause of nocosomial infections and is of increasing concern because of the spread of methicillin resistant strains which are refractory to treatment by most antibiotics. Said Wareg is currently studying for his PhD on a split-site basis with the El Fatah University in Tripoli, Libya and is investigating the epidemiology of MRSA in Libya. Ashraf Elgallali is researching staphylococcal lipoproteins and Sari Alhouife is studying the effects of stress responses on virulence gene expression.

Oral Microbiology

Work has been completed on the anti-caries activity of plant extracts and cocoa fractions (PhD student Ms Joanne Smullen, joint with Professor D.M.Storey and funded by Cadbury Schweppes). Dave Greenwood is researching for his PhD supported by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline joint with Professor Cynthia Pine and is investigating dental plaque formation and the effects of fluoride varnish on the microbiology of oral plaque in children aged under 3 in parallel with the Salford Bright Smiles project.

Lactic acid bacteria

Work has been completed on the effects of the low calorie sweetener lactitol on intestinal flora (PhD student Michelle Finney joint with D. M. Storey and funded by Purac bv of the Netherlands). The work showed that lactitol has many of the properties of a prebiotic. Mrs Almaz Gonfa (Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute, Funded by WAITRO) is working on the microbiology of fermented foods of Ethiopia. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) responsible for the fermentations have been characterised and organisms selected for use as starter cultures. The strains are being characterized by phenotypic and molecular methods and the use of MALDI/TOF for identification of lactic acid bacteria has been investigated (Joint with Professor Wilhelm Holzapfel, BFE, Germany, and SAI Ltd).

Qualifications and Memberships

BSc (Hons) Biochemistry 2(i) (University of Leeds)

PhD (University of Leeds)

Member of the Society for Applied Microbiology

Member of the Society for General Microbiology

Member of the Woodland Trust

Member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Member of the Royal Horticultural Society

Member of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside


Smullen, J., Finney, M., Storey, D.M. and Foster, H. A. (2012) Prevention of artificial dental plaque formation in vitro by plant extracts  Journal of Applied Microbiology 113, 964-973.

Foster, H.A., Sheel, D.W., Evans, P., Sheel, P., Varghese, S., Elfakhri, S.O, Yates, H.M. (2012) Antimicrobial activity of dual layer CuO-TiO2 coatings prepared by CVD against hospital related pathogens.  Chemical Vapour Deposition 18; 140-146.

Cook,  I., Sheel­­ , D. W, Foster, H. A. , Varghese, S. (2011) Durability of silver nanoparticulate films within a silica matrix by flame assisted chemical vapour deposition for biocidal applications. Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 11; 1–6.

Foster H.A., Ditta I.B, Varghese S. and Steele A. (2011). Photocatalytic disinfection using titanium dioxide: Spectrum and mechanism of antimicrobial activity, Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 90(6), 1847-1868

Foster, H.A., Sheel, D.W., Sheel, P.  Evans, P., Varghese, S., Rutschke, N., Yates, H.M. (2010) Antimicrobial activity of titania/silver and titania/copper films prepared by CVD Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry 216; 283-289.

Musil J., Louda M., Cerstvy R., Ditta I.B., Steele A. and Foster H.A. (2009) Two-functional DC sputtered Ag-containing TiO2 thin films. Nanoscale Research Letters 4, 313-320.