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School of Environment and Life Sciences

Professor Richard Birtles

Chair in Biomedicine


I completed my PhD while working at the central research and reference laboratory of the Public Health Laboratory Service (now Public Health England) in Colindale, north London. After a short sabbatical in Peru, chasing rats up mountains, I was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship at the Faculty of Medicine of the Université Aix-Marseille II where I spent four sunny years working in the Unité des Rickettsies, lead by Professor Didier Raoult. I returned to the UK in 1998 to begin a Wellcome Trust Medical Microbiology Fellowship, held initially in the Medical School at the University of Bristol, then in the School of Veterinary Science at The University of Liverpool. Following my Fellowship, I joined the academic staff in Liverpool, where I worked for 10 years before taking up a Chair at the University of Salford in early 2011.


My teaching is primarily aligned to my research interests and experience in microbiology and infectious diseases. I am module coordinator of, and principal contributor to, the “Medical and Public Health Microbiology” module that is core to the final year of all biomedical programmes within ELS. I contribute to other final year modules including “Epidemiology and Ecology of Infectious Diseases” and “Biology of Parasites”, and to the second year module “Microbes in Action”. I enjoy teaching to postgraduate students and, from September 2013 will coordinate the “Control of Infectious and Non-Infectious Diseases” module taught on two of the University’s Public Health MSc programmes. I also contribute to various parts of the Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology, which is delivered in collaboration with the Universities of Manchester and Keele. Like all other staff in ELS, I tutor groups of students at all levels, and supervise final year and masters level research projects. 

Research Interests

My work explores the strategies adopted by infectious agents, at the individual and population level, to persist in nature, in particular those microorganisms that are arthropod transmitted. These efforts have centred on organisms of public health and veterinary importance, including the tick-transmitted Borrelia and Anaplasma species, and flea and louse-transmitted members of the bacterial genus Bartonella. Recent/ongoing projects include examination of the adaptation of A. phagocytophilum and B. burgdorferi strains to specific transmission pathways within natural multi-host, multi-vector system, quantification of genome-wide diversity within Bartonella species, and exploration of the molecular basis of arthropod exploitation by Bartonella species. I also have a slow-burning interest in the role of amoeba and other free-living protists as environmental hosts for pathogens. I also like to trawl the blood-steam of animals from near and distant corners of the planet in search of new haemoparasitic bacteria and protozoa; please get in touch if you can help out!

I have been lucky enough to be part of a long-standing collaborative team, including scientists at the Universities of Aberdeen, Liverpool and Nottingham, interested in infectious disease ecology and using a model system of wild field vole (Microtus agrestis) populations to explore the influence of parasites on host population dynamics and host susceptibility to co-infectors, and the strategies adopted by hosts to counter parasitism.

Qualifications and Memberships

BSc (Hons), University of Leeds 1986

PhD, Open University 1994

Member of:

Society for General Microbiology

Society for Applied Microbiology

ESCMID Study Group for Lyme Borreliosis

ESCMID Study Group for Coxiella, Anaplasma, Rickettsia and Bartonella.


Bettridge J, Renard M, Zhao F, Bown KJ, Birtles RJ. Distribution of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato in Ixodes ricinus populations across central Britain. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis 2013;13:139-46.

Deng H, Le Rhun D, Buffet JP, Cotté V, Read A, Birtles RJ, Vayssier-Taussat M. Strategies of exploitation of mammalian reservoirs by Bartonella species. Vet Res 2012;43:15.

Chaloner GL, Palmira Ventosilla, Birtles RJ. Multi-locus sequence analysis reveals profound genetic diversity among isolates of the human pathogen Bartonella bacilliformis. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2011;5:e1248.

Chaloner GL, Harrison TG, Coyne KP, Aanensen DM, Birtles RJ. Multilocus sequence typing of Bartonella henselae in the United Kingdom indicates only a few, uncommon sequence types are associated with zoonotic disease. J Clin Microbiol. 2011;49:2132-7.

Telfer S, Lambin X, Birtles R, Beldomenico P, Burthe S, Paterson S, Begon M. Species interactions in a parasite community drive infection risk in a wildlife population. Science 2010;330:243-6.

Bown KJ, Lambin X, Ogden NH, Begon M, Telford G, Woldehiwet Z, Birtles RJ. Delineating Anaplasma phagocytophilum ecotypes in coexisting, discrete enzootic cycles. Emerg Infect Dis 2009;15:1948-54.