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Blocking threats to agriculture in Washington

Some people are naturally gifted with the ability to multi-task. One such person is Keri Druffel, research technologist III for the Department of Plant Pathology. Her ever-present energy, hard work and accomplishments have earned her a 2005 President’s Employee Excellence Award.

“I keep asking her what type of coffee she drinks,” said Hanu R. Pappu, associate professor of plant pathology. “So far she won’t tell…”

A researcher with WSU for the past 19 years, Druffel’s role in the process contributed to the identification and characterization of viruses and disease outbreaks that are potential threats to Washington’s agriculture. Most notably, Druffel worked in developing virus-resistant transgenic wheat and barley as part of a regional project with the University of Idaho. She identifies infected tissues — particularly in cherry, apple and grape orchards and in onions — with molecular techniques and then develops inexpensive tests so growers can prevent severe outbreaks by eliminating infected material from their fields and orchards.

“She’s genuinely interested in science; she does it for the sake of science,” said Pappu. “She’s not in it (research) for the recognition, although she deserves it.”

“It’s a great honor that my bosses think that highly of me,” she said, noting in particular Pappu and Kenneth Eastwell, associate professor at the Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. “They trust me and let me tackle problems from different angles. It really helps to have that good working relationship.

“But it’s not just the bosses (who are to thank for this award); it is all of my co-workers, the people down the hall,” Druffel said. She mentioned Jerry Reeves’ animal sciences lab and Derek Pouchnik’s sequencing lab in particular, saying, “Without other labs, we wouldn’t be able to get our work done.”

Druffel’s drive brings her into the lab at all hours and on the weekends, although her busy schedule is peppered with her other life duties — four kids and a family farm, Pappu said.

“Keri is one of those rare employees who goes above and beyond her call of duty on a daily basis,” he said.

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