Faculty Profile

Allison James

Allison James

Clinical Assistant Professor


  • WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health

Affiliated Organizations

  • Immunology and Infectious Diseases Graduate Student Association (Faculty Advisor)
  • American Association of Food Safety and Public Health Veterinarians (Member)
  • American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (Member)
  • American Society for Microbiology (Member) 

Phone: (509) 335-4058



Dr. James is a veterinarian with expertise in public health and infectious disease.  As a junior faculty member, she is involved in teaching in the veterinary curriculum as well as research.  Her main topic of research is the epidemiology of Relapsing Fever in East Africa, a neglected, tick-borne bacterial disease.  Dr. James is also interested in a number of issues related to the human-animal interface, including animal-source food consumption and childhood nutritional health.

Personal Statement

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a veterinarian.  It wasn’t until college that I began to become deeply interested in how our interactions with animals directly or indirectly impact human health.  I pursued this path because I wanted to understand this connection, but I also wanted to make impactful contributions that would improve the human condition.  Research and teaching/mentoring allow me to both contribute to the body of knowledge that can be used to improve human health, and hopefully inspire others to do so as well.

In my free time, I enjoy exploring the Pacific Northwest with my husband and young son.  We like to get out on a hike or a bike, and in springtime, you can find me in the woods foraging for morels. 

Education and Training

  • BS – Michigan State University (2005)
  • DVM – Michigan State University (2009)
  • MPH – University of Minnesota (2009)
  • PhD – Washington State University (2016)

General Research / Expertise

My core research training is on the topic of host-pathogen interactions, specifically on how Borreliae are able to maintain persistent infections in their human and animal hosts.  Currently, my research focus is on the contribution of Relapsing Fever Borreliae in East Africa to undiagnosed febrile illness.  I am also involved in a number of smaller projects across the spectrum of veterinary public health, with topics including food security in Kenya and domestic zoonoses. 

Research Contributions

1.  Because the most significant clinical signs and complications of infection with Relapsing Fever Borreliae are related to the ability of the organism to persist in the human host, it is imperative to understand how these organisms are able to evade the host’s immune system.  Borreliae do this through antigenic variation, a process where they ‘switch their coat’.  Sequential antigenic variation allows the pathogen to stay one step ahead of the host’s antibody response that would otherwise result in clearance from the body. The main mechanism for antigenic variation in Borreliae is genetic rearrangement, a process that, on a molecular level, has not been well characterized.  My work involved elucidating the role of specific DNA elements in the antigenic variation process.  The overall goal of this research is to lay the foundation for future work to identify any unique proteins involved in this process.  In doing so, we may be able to target this cellular machinery to prevent antigenic variation.  Indeed, we know through my work, and that of others’, that stasis of this loci results in an inability for the pathogen to persist in the host.

2.  Many reports from across sub-Saharan Africa have described an overdiagnosis of malaria.  In areas where Relapsing Fever and malaria are co-endemic, it has been shown that malaria is diagnosed in many cases when the infecting pathogen is actually Relapsing Fever Borrelia.  Indeed, infection with Relapsing Fever Borreliae resembles that of malaria.  Tick-borne relapsing fever has been historically described in Kenya, and reported from neighboring countries in recent years.  My research involves investigating the attribution of Borreliae to undiagnosed febrile illness in Kenya.  This work is underway, but the results would provide significant information on the epidemiology of Borrelia in Kenya, which will help inform the proper and timely treatment of patients.

Research Details

The underlying mechanism for antigenic variation in Relapsing Fever Borrelia spp. is known to occur by a gene conversion event that sequentially replaces a silent gene copy of the immunodominant outer surface lipoprotein with a copy in the single, transcriptionally active expression site.  Both the expression site gene and silent genes have two conserved elements that lie upstream and downstream of the coding region, the upstream homology sequence and downstream homology sequence.  It had previously been proposed that these sequences serve as crossover points for the recombination event that leads to antigenic variation.  Difficulties in genetically manipulating Relapsing Fever Borreliae have historically impeded mutational studies on this pathogen. Using Borrelia hermsii DAH as a type-strain, I successfully implemented a unique targeted delection-complementation approach for genetic manipulation that had never been applied to any Relapsing Fever Borreliae.  Using these techniques, my work supported the requirement of the upstream homology sequences for antigenic variation, and verified that an inverted repeat sequence within downstream element is essential for genetic recombination. 

In the quest to complete the work described above, I investigated why Relapsing Fever Borrelia spp. were resistant to genetic manipulation, while Lyme Borrelia were relatively amenable to mutation. I investigated whether the presence of a DNA adenine methyltransferase (Dam) in Relapsing Fever Borrelia spp., a gene that is absent in Lyme Borrelia, impedes mutational studies.  DNA methyltransferases are often associated with restriction-modification systems that protect the host cell from foreign DNA.  After disrupting the Dam gene in B. hermsii, I demonstrated that the gene is dispensable for viability and infectivity, but that it may serve a role in establishing infection in the mammalian host.

Currently, my primary research focus is on understanding the epidemiology of Relapsing Fever in Kenya.  By utilizing stored serum samples that are collected as part of two ongoing prospective studies in which WSU is a co-collaborator, we will test the hypothesis that Borreliae are a cause of undiagnosed febrile illness in western Kenya.  The two objectives of this study are to determine the prevalence of RF by testing stored serum samples using a validated ELISA, and to analyze previously collected health questionnaire and diagnostic data to determine the attribution of RF to undiagnosed febrile illness. 

Select Publications
  • James AE, Rogovskyy AS, Crowley MA, Bankhead T (2017) Cis-acting DNA elements flanking the variable major protein expression site of Borrelia hermsii are required for murine persistence. MicrobiologyOpen doi: 10.1002/mbo3.569. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 29250931 PMCID:
  • James AE, Rogovskyy AS, Crowley MA, Bankhead T (2016) Characterization of a DNA Adenine Methyltransferase Gene of Borrelia hermsii and Its Dispensability for Murine Infection and Persistence. PLoS One. 11(5), e0155798 PMID: 27195796 PMCID: PMC4873019
  • Allison E. James, Guy H. Palmer (2015) The Role of Animal Source Foods in Improving Nutritional Health in Urban Informal Settlements: Identification of Knowledge Gaps and Implementation Barriers Lifescience Global Vol. 4, No. 2 PMID: PMCID:
  • 2010-2012 - Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, Fellowship Recipient
  • 2013-2014 - Cora May Poncin Fellowship