Leona Chemnick

Researcher, Genetics

Leona Chemnick serves the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research as a researcher in the Genetics division.  In this position, she oversees the work undertaken by the lab staff using molecular genetics techniques to aid conservation programs for a number of endangered species, and manages the banking and distribution of DNA and related biomaterials that are a part of the Frozen Zoo® resource.

Ms. Chemnick graduated with a BA in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, then earned a BS in zoology from San Diego State University. She began as an immunology lab technician at Scripps’s Clinic and Research Foundation, then moved to Boston and worked at Tuft’s Medical Center in the virology department. Leona returned to San Diego in 1981 and joined the San Diego Zoo as a lab technician in the molecular genetics division. She advanced through several research levels before obtaining her current position title in 2004.

Ms. Chemnick and the molecular genetics staff have used DNA methodology to provide species identification, parentage determination, and confirmation of sex, as well as contributing to analysis of kinship and genetic variation in a number of species including the California condor, Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, and Anegada iguana; this work has resulted in author or co-authorships of scientific and popular publications. Leona has been involved in various student mentorship programs including InternQuest, the Summer Fellowship program, Upward Bound, and BeWISE, and has served as a Science Fair Judge for over 15 years.