Leigh Plesniak, Ph.D.

  • Overview
  • Education
  • Professional
  • Publications
  • Grants & Awards


Leigh Plesniak founded San Diego Family Science in 2010 after she became involved with organizing the Family Science Night at her children's elementary school. With a long time passion for science, the arts, creativity and 14 years of teaching experience at the University of San Diego, the project was a natural fit for her. The primary focus of San Diego Family Science has been to bring quality science enrichment to schools in the San Diego area. She has taken her science activities, loaned supplies and help organize Science Nights at many San Diego elementary schools, including La Jolla Elementary, Daillard Elementary, Riverview Elementary in Lakeside and Sunset View in Point Loma.

As a faculty member of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of San Diego, Leigh taught over 15 different courses, created a Biochemistry Major, led an active NIH-funded research program and co-founded PURE, a program that brought rising USD freshman from challenged backgrounds to campus the summer before their first year at the University. Leigh Plesniak is an active member of Las Patronas, a La Jolla based charitabIe organization that disburses more than $500,000 annually to San Diego County non-profit organizations. In her free time, Leigh Plesniak enjoys traveling, paddle-surfing, yoga and hiking with her family.

University of Virginia




University of California, San Diego




University of British Columbia




Positions and Employment

1995-2001 Assistant Professor,
Department of Chemistry, University of San Diego
2001-2002 Sabbatical Visiting Scholar,
University of California, San Diego
2001-2007  Associate Professor,
Department of Chemistry, University of San Diego
2007-2008 Professor,
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of San Diego
2008- present Visiting Professor,
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of San Diego
2008-2010 Visiting Researcher,
Burnham Institute for Medical Research

Courses Taught

Nonmajors courses
DNA Science and Technology, Chemistry and Society
Majors courses
General Chemistry, Laboratory and Lecture
Organic Chemistry Laboratory
Biochemistry Lecture and Laboratory
Biophysical Chemistry Lecture and Laboratory
Instrumental Analysis
Honors/ Special Topics
Some Like it Hot
Extreme Biochemistry
Membrane Biochemistry

(Click for a list of publications at NIH PubMed)

James Kahn, Robert N. Dutnall, Kimberly Matulef & Leigh A. Plesniak (2010) Measurement of kon without a rapid mixing device. BAMBED. 28(4): 238-241 (online)

Leigh A. Plesniak, R. Mahalakshmi, Candace Rypien, Yang Yao, Jasmina Racic & Francesca M. Marassi (2010) Expression, refolding, and initial structural characterization of the Y. pestis Ail outer membrane protein in lipids. Biochimica Biophysica Acta. Epub ahead of print. (online)

Bridget Salzameda, Holly Hinderberger, Elizabeth Regan, James Kahn, Stephen A. Mills, Peter Teriete, Yong Yao, Francesca Marassi & Leigh A. Plesniak. (2010) Structure and activity of CPNGRC: A modified CD13/APN peptide homing motif. Chemical Biology and Drug Design 75(6):551-62. (online)

Yong Yao, A.A. Bobkov, Leigh A. Plesniak, and Francesca M. Marassi. (2009) Mapping the interaction of pro-apoptotic tBID with pro-survival BCL-XL. Biochemistry. 48: 8704-8711. (online)

Leigh A. Plesniak, Kyle Botsch, Michelle Leibrand, Mark Kelly, Daniel Sem, Joseph A. Adams and Patricia Jennings. (2008) Transferred NOE and saturation transfer difference NMR Studies of novobiocin binding to EnvZ suggest binding mode similar to DNA Gyrase. Chemical Biology and Drug Design. 71: 28-35. (online)

Christopher V. Grant, Siu-Ling Sit, Anna A. De Angelis, Chin H. Wu, Kelli S. Khuong, Leigh A. Plesniak, Stanley J. Opella. (2007) An efficient (1)H/(31)P double-resonance solid-state NMR probe that utilizes a scroll coil. Journal of Magnetic Resonance 188: 279-84.

Cristina Sandoval, Bridget Salzameda, Kristine Reyes, Taylor Williams, Valeris S. Hohman and Leigh A. Plesniak (2007) Anti-obesity and anti-tumor pro-apoptotic peptides are sufficient to cause release of cytochrome c from vesicles. FEBS Letters. 581: 5464-8

Cristina M. Sandoval , Bernhard H. Geierstanger , Satoshi Fujimura, Calvin Balatbat , Taylor Williams, Julio de Unamuno, Jennifer A. Whiles-Lillig, Lisa M. Ellerby , H. Michael Ellerby, Patricia Jennings and Leigh A. Plesniak (2006) Structural evaluation of a novel pro-apoptotic peptide coupled to CNGRC tumor homing sequence by NMR. Chemical Biology and Drug Design. 67, 6 383-450. (online)

Leigh A. Plesniak, Jonathan I. Parducho, Angie Ziebart, Bernhard H. Geierstanger, Jennifer Whiles, Guiseppe Melacini, & Patricia A. Jennings. (2004) Orientation and helical conformation of a tissue specific hunter-killer peptide in micelles. Protein Science. 13:1988-96. (online)

M.Sue Lowery and Leigh A. Plesniak. (2003) Some Like It Cold: A computer-based Laboratory Introduction to Sequence and Tertiary Structure Comparison of Cold-Adapted Lactate Dehydrogenases using Bioinformatics Tools. Journal of Chemical Education. 80: 1300-1302. (online)

Leigh A. Plesniak and Ellis Bell. (2003) Teaching proteomics. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. 31: 127-30. (online)

Leigh A. Plesniak, Yuki Horiuchi, Daniel Sem, David Meinenger, Linda Stiles, Jennifer Shaffer, Patricia A. Jennings, and Joseph A. Adams. (2002) Probing the Nucleotide Binding Domain of Osmoregulator EnvZ Using Fluorescent Nucleotide Derivatives. Biochemistry. 41: 876-82. (online)

Martha.L. Medina*, Barbara S. Chapman, James P. Bolender and Leigh A. Plesniak. (2002) Transient vesicle leakage initiated by a synthetic apoptotic peptide derived from the death domain of neurotrophin receptor, p75NTR. Journal of Peptide Research. 59 (4): 149-158. (online)

Julie Gegner, J., Spruill, N., and Plesniak, L. A. (1999) A Structure-Function Study of RecA: The Structural Basis for ATP Specificity in the Strand Exchange Reaction. Journal of Chemical Education 76, 1562-63.

Matthew R. Hileman, Barbara S. Chapman, S. Rabizadeh, V.V. Krishnan, Dale Bredesen, Nuria Assa-Munt, & Leigh A. Plesniak. (1997) A cytoplasmic peptide of the neurotrophin Receptor p75NTR: Induction of apoptosis and NMR determined helical conformation. FEBS Letters 415: 145-154.

Leigh A. Plesniak, Greg Conolly & Lawrence P. McIntosh. (1996) Characterization of a buried neutral histidine residue in Bacillus circulans Xylanase - NMR assignments, pH titration and hydrogen exchange. Protein Science. 5: 2319-2328.





Hunter Killer Peptides: Membrane Interactions and Receptor Binding
2NIH R15 GM068431-02A1,               

9/01/07- 8/31/10     

Structural Characterization of Hunter-Killer Peptides
NIH R15 GM068431-01,                                                                 
Role:  PI

8/01/03 - 7/30/07

A 500 MHz NMR for Teaching and Research
NSF  MRI CHE-047731,
PI:  Leigh Plesniak,  Co-PIs:  Peter Iovine and Tammy J. Dwyer

8/01/04 - 7/30/07

Conference:  A Biosensors Workshop and Speaker Session for the Advancement of Undergraduate Participation in Protein Science.
NSF MCB-0621252,                                                       
PI:  Leigh A. Plesniak  Co-PIs:  Lisa Unico and Robert Fairman

8/1/06 – 7/31/07

Conference: A Systems Biology Workshop, Career Panel and Speaker Session for the Promotion of Undergraduate Protein Science Education
and Research.

NSF MCB-0514747,                                                                         
PI:  Leigh A. Plesniak  Co-PIs: Judith Klein and Robert Fairman

  7/1/05 - 10/1/05

Structural Characterization of Hunter-Killer Peptides
Research Corporation grants CC 5857,  

6/1/03 – 5/30/05

NMR Structure a Hunter Killer Peptide
UCSD Cancer Center Grant                                                             
PI:  Patricia Jennings  Co-PI:  Leigh Plesniak


5/1/02 – 4/30/03

PURE, Pre-Freshman Undergraduate Research Experience
San Diego Foundation,  Blasker Grant,
PI:  Debbie Tahmassebi   Co-PI:  Leigh Plesniak

6/1/01 - 5/30/02

Structural Characterization of Phosphopeptides which Bind in the Active Site of Tyrosine Phosphatase SH-PTP2 by NMR.
Research Corporation  CC3890,

6/1/95 – 5/30/98

Integration of Computational Chemistry and Molecular Modeling in the Undergraduate Curriculum
NSF-Instrument and Laboratory Improvement,
PI:  Tammy J. Dwyer  Co-PI: Leigh Plesniak

   6/1/95- 5/30/97