Distinguished USDA, WSU scientist honored with lifetime achievement award

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Tim Paulitz didn’t grow up in an agricultural family or area, but that didn’t keep him from pursuing a career helping farmers and growers.

“I was always curious about plants and constantly growing them in the backyard as a child,” said Paulitz, an adjunct professor at Washington State University who grew up in Southern California. “That’s what led me to study botany in college and eventually into plant pathology.”

Closeup of Tim Paulitz
Tim Paulitz

After a long and distinguished career that includes working for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and as a WSU adjunct in the Department of Plant Pathology, Paulitz recently received a lifetime achievement award from the American Phytopathological Society’s Pacific Division.

Those achievements include breakthroughs in genetically identifying organisms that live and impact the soil microbiome and work on soil-borne pathogens that impact crops.

Through his DNA soil work, he discovered the importance and benefits of collaborating with a wide variety of other scientists.

“There’s a great deal of satisfaction in working with other people to help growers while also using technology to keep moving science forward,” said Paulitz. “No person is an island. To be successful, you have to work with other experts to tackle difficult problems.”

After earning a PhD and completing multiple postdoctoral research positions, Paulitz spent 10 years as a professor at McGill University in Quebec, Canada. He enjoyed that role, but when the opportunity came to replace an ARS legend, he took it.

He joined ARS’ Pullman, Washington-based Root Disease and Biological Control Research Unit in 2000 when renowned scientist R. James Cook left ARS to become a WSU faculty member.

“ARS is a mission-oriented agency, and we work on problems that we identify alongside growers,” Paulitz said. “Our ability to do that job well is boosted by the close relationship between WSU and ARS.”

That relationship will be further strengthened when the new ARS Plant Biosciences Building opens on the WSU Pullman campus in 2026. Paulitz is deeply involved in that project.

“I can’t wait to see this building come to fruition,” Paulitz said. “My career has been an amazing privilege: I get to satisfy my scientific and intellectual curiosity and never have to do the same thing every day. The new ARS building will help future generations of scientists do that to an even greater extent while also benefiting growers across the region.”

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