Strains of many infectious agents differ in fundamental epidemiological parameters including transmissibility, virulence and pathology. We investigated whether genotypes of Mycobacterium bovis (the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis, bTB) differ significantly in transmissibility and virulence, combining data from a nine-year survey of the genetic structure of the M. bovis population in Northern Ireland with detailed records of the cattle population during the same period. We used the size of herd breakdowns as a proxy measure of transmissibility and the proportion of skin test positive animals (reactors) that were visibly lesioned as a measure of virulence. Average breakdown size increased with herd size and varied depending on the manner of detection (routine herd testing or tracing of infectious contacts) but we found no significant variation among M. bovis genotypes in breakdown size once these factors had been accounted for. However breakdowns due to some genotypes had a greater proportion of lesioned reactors than others, indicating that there may be variation in virulence among genotypes. These findings indicate that the current bTB control programme may be detecting infected herds sufficiently quickly so that differences in virulence are not manifested in terms of outbreak sizes. We also investigated whether pathology of infected cattle varied according to M. bovis genotype, analysing the distribution of lesions recorded at post mortem inspection. We concentrated on the proportion of cases lesioned in the lower respiratory tract, which can indicate the relative importance of the respiratory and alimentary routes of infection. The distribution of lesions varied among genotypes and with cattle age and there were also subtle differences among breeds. Age and breed differences may be related to differences in susceptibility and husbandry, but reasons for variation in lesion distribution among genotypes require further investigation.