Sheila Patrick
1983 …2023

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Research Statement

Professor Emeritus Sheila Patrick

Chair of Molecular Medical Bacteriology

1977 BSc (Honours Microbiology); University of Edinburgh

1981 PhD Microbiology; University of Edinburgh

2006 DSc Opportunistic pathogens of the normal human microbiota; University of Edinburgh

Fellow of the the Higher Education Academy

Chair, Society for Anaerobic Microbiology

Chair, Microbiology Society Prokaryotic Division



Opportunistic bacterial infections that arise from the normal resident human microbiota, with emphasis on anaerobic bacteria.

The aim of Professor Patrick's research is to contribute to our understanding of opportunistic bacterial infection so that we can better understand these diseases and improve on prevention, diagnosis and treatment. She has been involved in research into anaerobic bacteria of the human microbiota in health and disease for more than 38 years.

Her research in biofilm-associated prosthetic joint infection highlighted the importance of mild ultrasound treatment of retrieved implants to dislodge biofilm and the need for anaerobic culture for the detection of Propionibacterium (Cutibacterium) acnes for accurate infection diagnosis. Her research resulted in re-assessment of P. acnes phylogeny; the description of a novel sub-group and designation of sub-species. This has informed our understanding of P. acnes in health and disease. With a post-doctoral researcher in her lab, Dr Andrew McDowell, in 2012 she wrote the chapter on the taxonomic family Propionibacteriaceae in Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, the recognised global taxonomic authority in Bacteriology. As PI, she designed a Randomised Controlled Trial to investigate pre-surgical skin disinfection. The trial outcome informs surgical practice; application of two different antiseptics sequentially significantly reduced the number of patients with surgical-site contamination. Bacteria from surgical-sites that were contaminated were derived from patients’ skin, not the operating surgeon, indicating the most likely source of implant infection is the patient. This underlines the importance of effective antisepsis.

She was Principal Investigator, in collaboration with the Wellcome Sanger Centre, for the first complete genome sequence of B. fragilis.  From this, the mechanism generating antigenic and phase variation of B. fragilis, which she had first described in the 1980s, was elucidated and the unprecedented level of DNA inversion events controlling variation discovered (DOI:10.1126/science.1107008) Analysis of a second fully annotated genome and genomic comparisons revealed that polysaccharide biosynthesis formed a large part of B. fragilis diversity within the pan-genome. The original fully annotated sequences underpin global research and have provided the template for subsequent B. fragilis genome sequences. Her subsequent research provided key insights into the mechanisms of metronidazole resistance, horizontal gene transfer and pathogenic potential in B. fragilis.  One of the most exciting discoveries arising from the genome sequence, with potentially high importance for human health, was the discovery of the unique homologue of eukaryotic ubiquitin and the link with autoimmune disease. Professor Patrick is still investigating this area of research.

During her career she has initiated and sustained successful collaborative research, as evidenced by joint publications, across wide geographical locations, including Hungary, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, USA (Los Angeles, North Carolina, Seattle, Rochester) as well as within UK

She took early retirement in 31 December 2015 and has the position of Emeritus Professor at Queen's University. She is still active in research within Queen's University in collaboration with Dr Linda Stewart in the School of Biological Sciences; she also collaborates with Professor Garry Blakely at the University of Edinburgh.

She continues to volunteer for subject-related societies; she chairs the Society for Anaerobic Microbiology and in the Microbiology Society UK, is Chair-elect of the Prokaryotic Division and is Chair of the Federation of Infection Societies 2019 conference.


Jamie English (Post-graduate Student)


Patrick S, Larkin MJ 1995. Immunological and molecular aspects of bacterial virulence. Chichester; J. Wiley. 275pp

Patrick, S. 2002. Bacteroides. Chapter 91, pp 1921-1948. In: Molecular Medical Microbiology B Boulnois, G Griffin, C Hormaeche, G Keusch, M Levine, H Smith, P Williams, M Sussman (Eds). London: Academic Press.

Patrick S and Duerden BI. 2006. Gram-negative non-spore forming obligate anaerobes. Chapter 45, pp 541-556. In: Principles and Practice of Clinical Bacteriology 2 nd Edn. SH Gillespie, P Hawkey (Eds). London: Wiley.

Patrick S and McDowell A The Propionibacteriaceae. In: Volume 5 Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology 2nd Edn. H-J Busse, M Goodfellow, P Kämpfer, W Ludwig, JT Staley, K Suzuki, WB Whitman (Eds). New York: Springer-Verlag. In press.

McDowell A and Patrick S. 2011. Propionibacterium Chapter 13 In: Molecular detection of human bacterial pathogens. D Liu (Ed). Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor & Francis Group.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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