Thursday, May 17, 2001

University of Hawaii

Professor is coming
home to Hawaii

Jo-Ann C. Leong will
head the UH Institute
for Marine Biology

By Helen Altonn

Jo-Ann C. Leong, professor and chairwoman of Oregon State University's Department of Microbiology, may soon be closer to her hundreds of island relatives as director of the University of Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology, headquartered at Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay.

Her appointment, effective Sept. 1 with an annual salary of $145,000, is on the UH Board of Regents' agenda for approval tomorrow.

"She's a real winner," said C. Barry Raleigh, dean of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology. "She's invited to speak all over the place. She's a prolific author and she's really delightful. She has a very nice personal style and will manage Coconut Island beautifully."

E. Gordon Grau, former HIMB interim director who now directs the Sea Grant College Program, said Leong is "top notch" in her field and an outstanding administrator and scholar.

"She does interesting and important research. We had to work very hard to recruit her," he said. "We're really very lucky. I think she's the right person to lead HIMB into the next stage."

Jo-Ann Leong, a respected microbiologist,
is returning to Hawaii to contribute to
UH's marine biology institute.

Leong would receive a package of startup money and additional positions at HIMB to crank up research there, Raleigh said. "I would like to see this institution bring tools of modern biology to bear on problems of coral reef and coastal ocean ecology."

She said HIMB now "is doing sensory biology in the broadest sense of the word, not only looking at marine mammal eco-location, but how other fish sense their environment and respond to lunar cycles as well as climate and UV (ultraviolet radiation), etc."

Cutting-edge work is being done on coral reef biology, which has stirred a lot of interest because of problems with coral reefs around the world, Leong said. "Hawaii, fortunately because of its isolation, has an opportunity to begin to look at coral reefs before they decline as they do in other parts of the world."

The Coconut Island laboratory also has a strong group looking at the response of reef organisms to pollution and other intrusions in the environment, she said.

With a large laboratory building funded by the Pauley Foundation and new faculty who will be recruited, Leong said: "We have an opportunity out there to make something pretty spectacular. I'm excited about it."

She said she wants to have more people visiting Coconut Island so they will know about it.

"Even my relatives don't know what it's all about."

Leong, daughter of Josephine and Raymond Ching of Niu Valley, attended Jefferson Elementary, Stevenson Intermediate and Roosevelt High schools and went to UH for two years in the first class of accelerated studies.

She earned bachelor's and doctorate degrees in zoology and microbiology from the University of California-Berkeley and University of California-San Francisco Medical Center. She wanted to return to Hawaii with her degrees, but no jobs were available, she said in a telephone interview.

Then, when first offered the HIMB position, she had to turn it down until her son graduated from high school. She said she cried when she said no, but "family comes first."

Her two children now are going to college, and the HIMB job "amazingly remained open," she said. "I am more than ecstatic to be going (to Hawaii)." Leong's husband, Oren, an anesthesiologist who will retire in July, also is from Hawaii, the son of Muriel Leong and the late Sun Leong.

Jo-Ann Leong has been on the OSU faculty since 1995, and in 1998 was named the second recipient of the Emile F. Pernot Distinguished Professorship in Microbiology at OSU. The endowed professorship was established to enhance the study of microbiology.

She is a nationally recognized specialist on viral diseases in salmon, trout and aquatic animals and was a key figure in creation of a Center for Salmon Disease Research at Oregon State.

She was appointed chairwoman of the Microbiology Department in 1996 and has received awards for her teaching, research and service.

A research virologist, she teaches virology, molecular biology of HIV, disease of Pacific salmon and immunopathogenesis of HIV.

She does research on human retroviruses, such as HIV, and on viral diseases that devastate fish stocks.

She also holds patents on vaccines to control viral infection of fish.

Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology

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