Washington State University Professor Kelly Brayton will receive one of Purdue University’s highest alumni honors – the 2020 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award – at a virtual alumni celebration tonight.

Recognized for her international work on tick-borne pathogens, the award highlights mid-career alumni who have a demonstrated record of outstanding accomplishments or have made contributions to their profession and society.

“It’s truly gratifying to receive this award from my alma mater,” Brayton said. “There aren’t really words for it. To be recognized among the university’s most outstanding alumni, it’s more than an honor.”

Brayton, chair of WSU’s Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department in the College of Veterinary Medicine, earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Purdue’s College of Agriculture in 1993; she came to WSU in 1999.

Her genomics research has led to a comprehensive list of genes involved in the transmission of tick-borne diseases and shed light on pathogenesis and identified several vaccine candidates that are currently in various stages of testing, most notably for the disease agent, Anaplasma marginale.

The bacteria are transmitted through the tick’s salivary glands and into the host when ticks feed. The pathogen then makes its way into a cow’s bloodstream and into the red blood cells, causing a devastating infection known as bovine anaplasmosis. If left untreated, cattle can experience up to a 36% mortality rate.

“Right here in her lab in Pullman, Dr. Brayton continues to explore solutions to one of the most important livestock diseases in the world,” said Dr. Bob Mealey, chair of Veterinary Clinical Sciences and longtime colleague of Brayton. “Her discoveries have changed the understanding of infectious diseases of both animals and humans, and she has made lasting contributions to the personal growth and success of students and other scientists.”

Most recently, Brayton has been exploring five proteins identified as potential vaccine targets for diverse strains of the pathogen worldwide.

In addition to her scientific advancements, Brayton has taught WSU’s Mechanisms of Disease course, and contributed to several others, for more than two decades.

“Working at WSU has been a wonderful way to spend the past 22 years,” Brayton said. “But the greatest part is touching other people’s lives and getting young people enthusiastic about science.”