Prof Richard Birtles

School of Science, Engineering & Environment

Photo of Prof Richard Birtles

Current positions



I completed my PhD while working at the central research and reference laboratory of the Public Health Laboratory Service (now UKHSA) 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.

Areas of Research

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

Areas of Supervision

ticks and tick-borne diseases
environmental persistence of pathogens
rodent-borne pathogens
livestock infections
one health
infectious diseases of wildlife


I teach microbiology and infectious disease ecology to undergraduate and postgraduate students studying on Bioscience programmes.