WSU professor receives distinguished award from Purdue

Pathogen research began in South Africa; successfully completed genome sequence of pathogen



Kelly Brayton received the 2020 Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Award from Purdue University for her groundbreaking research on tick-borne diseases.

ANNA MICHALSON, Evergreen reporter

A WSU microbiology professor received the 2020 Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Award from Purdue University. 

Kelly Brayton, chair of the WSU Department of Microbiology and Pathology, received the award in recognition for her groundbreaking research on tick-borne diseases and the pathogen Anaplasma marginale, which infects cattle. 

When cattle are infected with the pathogen, it has a fatality rate of approximately 36 percent.  Through her research, Brayton said she hopes to find a solution to this problem.

Kelly Brayton started her career with the pathogen Anaplasma marginale when she lived in South Africa, where she worked with a similar organism. (COURTESY OF KELLY BRAYTON)

Brayton said her career of working with the pathogen started when she lived in South Africa, where she worked with a similar organism. 

“That is how I got introduced to tick-borne pathogens and cattle diseases and how I got into veterinary medicine because I didn’t work on that kind of stuff before then,” she said. 

Brayton lived in South Africa for six years researching that organism. Toward the end of 1999, she said she and her newly-wed husband made the decision to move back to the U.S. 

“I started looking for a job and got one here,” she said. “It was actually networking. I knew somebody that worked here and I sent them my CV and I got offered the job.”

She began teaching the graduate course Mechanisms of Disease after being hired and continues to do so.

Bob Mealey, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, said he and Brayton began working at WSU together in the early 2000s. They advanced in the department together. 

Mealey said Brayton’s accomplishments with this research have been amazing. 

“She really did groundbreaking work on tick diseases,” he said. 

Brayton successfully completed the genome sequence of the pathogen, opening up new advances in her research. She was the first scientist to decode this particular genome, Mealey said. 

Aside from her distinguished award from Purdue, Mealey said Brayton also received the WSU Woman of Distinction Award last year. 

“She’s got incredible work ethic, she’s got amazing integrity, she’s totally unselfish,” Mealey said. “She’s positively influenced the careers of so many scientists.” 

The 2020 Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Award can be received by anyone affiliated with Purdue University. Brayton received her doctorate there, which made her eligible for it. 

Eight people received the award last year, but the ceremony was canceled due to the onset of the pandemic. This year, those eight and four new recipients were recognized in a joint ceremony, she said. 

Brayton said she feels incredibly honored to receive the award. It marks a pinnacle in her career, and being recognized in this way is fulfilling. 

While this award feels amazing to receive, Brayton said she has been even more touched by working with her students. 

“Shaping students, and touching their life, it’s having that effect on them, watching them learn and grow,” she said. “I think that is the most rewarding thing.”