SMB Faculty Profiles

Tom Kawula

Tom Kawula

Director Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health; Professor

Room: Allen Center 101
Phone: 509-335-1301

Affiliated Organizations
  • American Society for Microbiology
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Tularemia International Society



Dr. Kawula is an infectious disease microbiologist with research programs focusing on how intracellular bacterial pathogens evade host defenses and survive and thrive in hostile animal host environments.  He started out majoring in Forestry at the University of Idaho, but switched to Bacteriology and Biochemistry after becoming fascinated with microbes in a sophomore microbiology course taught by the late Al Lingg.  After obtaining a BS in Bacteriology in 1980 he completed a MS degree in 1982 at the University of Idaho where he was the first person to develop methodologies for genetically manipulating a fungus that was used to combat pea leaf weevil infestations.  Tom married the day before defending his Masters Thesis, and the following week he and his wife Carol moved across the country to Chapel Hill, NC where he entered the Microbiology and Immunology doctoral program at the University of North Carolina.  His doctoral research focused on how Neisseria meningitides (the bacteria that causes rapidly progressing fatal meningitis) evades detection by the host immune system. 

After obtaining his Ph.D. Dr. Kawula continued his scientific training in genetics and molecular biology at North Carolina State University.  He assumed his first faculty position at Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. He and his growing family returned to the University of North Carolina in 1992 where he expanded his infectious disease research program and became deeply involved in interdisciplinary graduate training and in educating medical students.  While at UNC Dr. Kawula served as director of the Microbiology and Immunology graduate program which averaged over 50 doctoral students per year, he was appointed to the Graduate School Board Advisory Board, and for 3 years he served as one of the founding Directors of a privately funded, institution wide interdisciplinary doctoral student society.  After 24 years at UNC Washington State University presented Dr. Kawula with the opportunity to lead the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.  The opportunities and challenges of this position encompassed everything that Dr. Kawula cherishes; building and supporting interdisciplinary international training programs, mentoring young scientists, conducting infectious disease research, and getting to do all of these activities at a world class institution.

Personal Statement

I can’t claim to be one of those people who found a career calling early in life.   Honestly I did whatever I could to avoid science classes in high school.  I took the bare minimum to graduate while stacking my schedule with every literature and writing course I could find. But I did love the outdoors, specifically hiking and fishing, and I had some vague romantic notion of being a Park Ranger so I entered the University of Idaho as Forestry major.  It was a good course of study with a balance of social and hard science classes.  Surprisingly to me I thrived in the science classes so I started loading my electives with advanced biology courses. When we started covering infectious diseases in an introduction to microbiology course I was sold, and switched my major to Bacteriology and Biochemistry.  When I graduated, which was the same year that Mt. St. Helens blew her top, very little was known about how bacteria or virus’s caused disease. 

At the same time recombinant DNA technologies were just being discovered and a new field of study was emerging where molecular biology approaches were applied to understanding both disease and host immune mechanisms. This truly was revolutionary, and I wanted to be a part of it.  The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill was one of the few institutions in the country where this type of research was taking place, another was the University of Washington. I just couldn’t bring myself to be a Husky so I headed southeast for my Ph.D. dissertation research.  I have remained involved in infectious disease research for my 30 plus year career and it is as challenging and rewarding now as it was when I first started.  Much of what I love about my research is how it allowed me to be engaged in training scientists at all levels, from undergrads to junior faculty.

Away from work I enjoy hiking, biking, and skiing with my wife Carol.

Education and Training

Postdoctoral Fellow, Microbiology, North Carolina State University (1987-1990) Ph.D., Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC (1987)  M.S., Bacteriology and Biochemistry, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID (1982)
B.S., Bacteriology, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID (1980) 

Previous Positions

Director (2012 – 2016), Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site:  NSF-funded Summer Undergraduate Research Experience in Molecular Biosciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

Professor (2010 – 2016), Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

Director, University Fellows/Royster Society of Fellows (2006 – 2009), The Graduate School, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

Member, Administrative Board of the Graduate School (2003-2009), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Associate Professor (1999 – 2010), Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

Visiting Scientist (2000 – 2001), Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Assistant Professor (1992 – 1999), Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

Assistant Professor (1990 1992), Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
List of Publications

Select Publications

  • Steele S, Radlinski L, Taft-Benz S, Brunton J, Kawula TH. (2016) Trogocytosis-associated cell to cell spread of intracellular bacterial pathogens. Elife 5. pii: e10625. doi: 10.7554/eLife.10625. PMID: 26802627 PMCID: PMC4786427
  • Brunton J, Steele S, Miller C, Lovullo E, Taft-Benz S, Kawula T. (2015) Identifying Francisella tularensis genes required for growth in host cells. Infect Immun. 83(8):3015-25. PMID: 25987704 PMCID: PMC4496600
  • Steele S, Brunton J, Ziehr B, Taft-Benz S, Moorman N, Kawula T. (2013) Francisella tularensis harvests nutrients derived via ATG5-independent autophagy to support intracellular growth. PLoS Pathog. 9(8):e1003562. PMID: 23966861 PMCID: PMC3744417
  • Brunton J, Steele S, Ziehr B, Moorman N, Kawula T. (2013) Feeding uninvited guests: mTOR and AMPK set the table for intracellular pathogens. PLoS Pathog. 9(10):e1003552. PMID: 24098109 PMCID: PMC3789714
  • Hall JD, Woolard MD, Gunn BM, Craven RR, Taft-Benz S, Frelinger JA, Kawula TH. (2008) Infected-host-cell repertoire and cellular response in the lung following inhalation of Francisella tularensis Schu S4, LVS, or U112. Infect Immun. 76(12):5843-52. PMID: 18852251 PMCID: PMC2583552


Washington State University