At the Los Alamos Consortium Biolab in Los Alamos Tuesday to celebrate two announcements concerning Pebble Labs are, from left, Pebble Labs Chief Science Officer Dr. Richard Sayre, Pebble Labs CEO Michael Harrison, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess, Cabinet Secretary of Economic Development Alicia Keyes, Cabinet Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte and New Mexico Consortium Chief Communications Officer Shannan Schnedler. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos County Council Vice Chair Pete Sheehey speaks with Kristie Garcia, Public Information Officer for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture Tuesday at the New Mexico Consortium Biolab. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Rep. Christine Chandler, far right, chats with Ashley Middleton and Shannan Schnedler of New Mexico Consortium Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Kicking off a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the New Mexico Consortium Bio Lab in Los Alamos New Mexico Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia Keyes announced that the state is pledging $4 million in Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) funds to help with the expansion of Pebble Labs at the Entrada Business Park.
“We also have the good fortune to announce with the leadership of Pebble Labs, an incredible scientific breakthrough. These two announcements go hand in hand because this administration puts supporting New Mexico companies as a priority so they can continue to be at the forefront of their industries as you will see today,” Keyes said.
She noted that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham who was also present for the press conference and tour of the Biolab, has strong ties to the Los Alamos community and worked hard as a member of the U.S. Congress to find better ways to transfer science and technology for Los Alamos National Laboratory to entrepreneurs who could create private sector jobs. She said that’s why Pebble Labs and the investment deal are so important to the governor.
The governor said communities all across New Mexico are hungry for economic development and that while Los Alamos is a very unique, incredible place, it illustrates that if you have vision you can take the power of the partnership with the Lab, which is to create private sector partnerships in any number of communities.
“The success story here is a success story that can happen anywhere in New Mexico,” said Lujan Grisham. “I appreciate Secretary Keyes making it really clear that this is the kind of partnership that can show the rest of the country that New Mexico is really moving.”
She thanked Rep. Christine Chandler who was also present for making sure that the state got $75 million for local economic development money, which she said was the largest ever single investment into the program.
Lujan Grisham noted that the state does a lot of announcements on LEDA grants.
“In this announcement we are surpassing any kind of typical expectations because we’re going to do 175 new jobs in the expansion of this lab with an average salary of $130,000,” she said.
“It is incredible that a state with limited water, a state with limited resources, a state with limited people is going to be in a position because of the talented men and women and the vision of this company to create sustainable food for 10 billion people on this planet today and for the future,” Lujan Grisham said.
She mentioned the Bioscience Center of Excellence at the University of New Mexico which she said is creating yet more training capacity and research opportunities to support companies like Pebble Labs and also noted $5 million in new STEM investments for the Public Education Department.
“We are clear about creating sustainability, opportunity and meaningful relationships for companies just like this,” Lujan Grisham said.
She noted that government just like the private sector can be incredibly competitive and that the Pebble Labs situation is not only an incredible announcement or an exciting expansion in the cutting edge competitive technology, opportunity and science.
“It that it speaks volumes to the rest of the work we do around the state. It creates not only opportunity but excitement around young people who are interested not in jobs but in careers and making a difference. And what better place to make a difference than having a career at Pebble Labs making a difference for the planet,” she said.
“Los Alamos knows that better than anyone, how to recruit the most amazing talent on the planet right here to New Mexico,” she concluded.
Michael Harrison, CEO, President and Chairman of the board for Pebble Labs noted the intellectual capital and people available in New Mexico.
“I spent most of my life in the mining industry and this is the biggest goldmine I’ve ever found,” he said. “We have been able to not only attract people from around the world but we’ve been able to find amazing talent here in New Mexico from the universities. The workforce here has been excellent. It’s very coordinated. It’s very highly-educated so we’re very impressed with that.”
Harrison said the company has a vision of increasing the campus area for Pebble Labs including a 66,000 square-foot facility to expand the laboratory and research space.
He said the science being done at Pebble Labs is very, very exciting.
“We’re changing the world in a very positive way. In the agriculture sector we’re taking the antibiotics out of the food chain. We’re taking pesticides and herbicides out of plants and we’re also eliminating vector diseases” he said.
Dr. Richard Sayre, Chief Science Officer and former LANL senior scientist discussed Pebble’s work in RNA interference technology which he said has been around for 20 years.
“It received a Nobel prize in 2006 but it’s application was largely not feasible because of the cost of producing the RNA molecule and the way to deliver that RNA molecule effectively to the target. Pebble Labs has solved those two problems by producing the RNA of bacteria that naturally live in the host organism. We can produce those RNA molecules at no cost. Those same bacteria package that RNA interference molecule and then deliver it to the host where it is processed and silences those essentials genes in the pathogens,” Sayre said.
“Today we’re very pleased to announce that a major virus problem in aquaculture called white spot syndrome virus for which there is no control on a global basis, using our technology, we’ve been able to achieve 100 percent survivability of shrimp that have been injected with a lethal dose of white spot syndrome virus,” he said, adding that this was achieved by “pre-inoculating those shrimp as adults with bacteria that naturally live in the gut of the shrimp producing those RNA interference molecules that target essential genes in the white spot syndrome virus”.
Sayre said that with this announcement, Pebble thinks that have achieved a solution for the shrimp industry.
“We’re also focusing on the fin fish industry in the aquaculture sector. We’ve achieved amazing results also in the agriculture sector controlling viruses and I’m going to make a prediction. We anticipate we will have 100 percent Zika-free mosquitos by the end of the year,” he said. “A lot of this was achievable by a great group of scientists and technicians from all over the world. We have 20 countries represented. Over half our employees are women and one-third are from New Mexico including Santa Clara Pueblo, Los Alamos Las Cruces, all over the state.”
Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess also spoke noting that when he started with the County eight years, where the biolab is currently located was just a patch of dirt.
“We were able to work with New Mexico Consortium to provide land for construction of this lab and now the Consortium is moving out, expanding into new space and Pebble Labs which was operating in this facility is now purchasing and taking over, expanding themselves as well,” he said. “It’s a great success story for our community and something we all should be proud of because it’s enabling our personnel, folks who live in Los Alamos and the surrounding area who choose to live here to continue living here and working here. We’re really excited about this prospect and looking forward to working on continued successes with Pebble Labs and celebrating the fact that they will be here with us to stay.”
Los Alamos County is issuing $12.5 million in industrial revenue bonds and will retain ownership of a portion of the property, with Pebble. Councilors Pete Sheehey, Antonio Maggiore, David Izraelevitz and Randy Ryti were present for the event.
Awaiting the arrival of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham Tuesday are, from left, Rep. Christine Chandler, Deputy Los Alamos County Manager Steve Lynne, Los Alamos County Attorney Alvin Leaphart and Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Pebble Labs Chief Science Officer Dr. Richard Sayre, far left , Pebble Labs CEO Michael Harrison and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at the New Mexico Consortium Biolab Tuesday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham arrives at the New Mexico Consortium in Los Alamos Tuesday with Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development Alicia Keyes and Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Jeff Witte. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com