Ashley DeAguero works in the biolab in the Pebble Labs facility at the Entrada Business Park in Los Alamos. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
David DeAguero chats with the Los Alamos Reporter in his Pebble Labs office. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Ashley and Joseph DeAguero returned to Los Alamos to work at Pebble Labs. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Ashley and Joseph DeAguero both work at biotech company Pebble Labs in Los Alamos.
Ashley considers herself a bit of a mutt from Northern New Mexico. She grew up in Cuba and then lived in Santa Fe and Espanola. Her parents currently live in Santa Clara Pueblo. She attended Espanola Valley High School where she met Joseph.
Joseph said his father is originally from Chimayo and his grandmother lives there so he always visited there but his parents moved to Alcalde and he grew up there. He attended middle school and high school in Espanola.
The couple actually attended classes at UNM-LA for a while after graduating from high school and then transitioned to the main campus. Ashley earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology and went on to get her Master’s degree in Developmental Biology and Genetics. Joseph got his degree in Applied Math at UNM and his Master’s at the University of Idaho in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.
When Joseph’s program was coming to an end, Ashley said they have always wanted to move back home.
“I had always in high school said I wanted to leave the state and once we left, I immediately wanted to come back. I would wait anxiously for the holidays because that’s when we used to come back. So right when his degree was almost completed, I started applying for jobs. I knew of the two major labs, Los Alamos and Sandia but I didn’t know if I could actually find something that I was going to be happy doing at either of those places,” she said.
Ashley said she looked for jobs at both places but they were hard to come by. She said she ended up stumbling on the New Mexico Consortium and Pebble Labs, applied and was lucky enough to get an interview.
“A day or so later they called me and said I got the position and I started to transition. It was a blessing in disguise because I never thought I would be able to live so close to home. Santa Clara and Espanola are just down the road and I never thought I was going to be able to live so close to home and do what I had wanting to do in science my whole life,” she said. “It’s great that we get to work her at Pebble – and together.”
Joseph said when he was finishing up in Idaho, Ashley mentioned that they needed some more computational work at Pebble. Ashley told them about him, so he applied and did some interviews and it turned out to be the right fit for him and for Pebble.
“That’s the thing about this company. Several husband and wife teams work here together and it’s not that they hire people because they are married. They hire off merit and an ability to contribute their skillset,” Ashley said. Joseph added that Pebble makes sure the spouse is qualified and that they have the same chance as any other applicant that applies for a position.
Ashley said she actually moved to Pebble from Idaho before Joseph and brought their two boys. She said she was stressed with moving and starting a new job but when she walked into the building there was a very welcoming atmosphere.
“The relationship between Pebble and the New Mexico Consortium has been phenomenal – the employees and staff. First on that list is Steve Buelow. He makes you feel welcome and taken care of. And I think that translates to everybody in the building. Everyone welcomed me by name which was very comforting and typically doesn’t happen at a university,” Ashley said.
Ashley works in the Pebble division called Trait Biosciences.
“One of the major goals in Trait is that they seek to make cannabinoids such as CBD more water soluble and make a more pure and safe substance for people to consume. I work on a lot of different things in the lab that I have never worked on before so that was a little intimidating to me. Most of my research in my Master’s and beyond dealt with muscle development in Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly. When I was in Idaho, I was also working with Drosophila and we were studying viral co-infection. So coming here and having to work with different platforms was a bit intimidating, but everybody was very helpful and I never once felt overwhelmed,” she said.
Ashley said all the help given to her along with the initial training by her supervisors and everybody above her has really helped her excel.
“This study is very fast-paced. I have never had a day where I’ve been bored, that’s for sure, and the day passes like a speeding bullet. And it’s fun! Everybody that I work with in the lab is very collaborative and we all have a good time. I think that’s one of the factors that makes us so successful – that we all work well together,” she said.
Both Ashley and Joseph spoke with admiration for Pebble’s chief science officer Dr. Richard Sayre, CEO Michael Harrison and Kimberley Harrison.
“They are exceptional role models in that they instill this attitude in everybody,” Ashley said, and Joseph added, “It starts at the top.”
Joseph said he came into his role working for Erick LeBrun, vice president of research for Pebble’s Parallax Division with a lot of computational experience.
“I came in with more of a strong computational biology background and not so much bioinformatics. Because I had such a broad set of skills I came in able to help with different things. Erick (LeBrun) has worked really well with me and we have a very good dynamic. A lot of the computational work we do with coding – we finalize a lot of sequence for the different groups so basically we do a lot of support for each division. The group in general has expanded hugely with the different ways we can use computers to analyze the data.
Joseph said he has learned so much.
“We have a lot of people who do molecular dynamics which I’ve never done and so now that they’ve come into the group I learn new things,” he said. “I sit at a computer all day but if I need anything I don’t understand in the wet lab side, the scientists are very happy and they’re very thorough with their explanations. Personally, I’m growing exponentially with what I’m learning.”
Ashley said it’s nice when they go home and if there’s free time to talk about it if she’s having a problem at work she can talk to Joseph about it and he sees a different side of the science and he can add his perspective.
“It’s interesting working together for sure,” she said.
“But we don’t work directly together, which is also nice. We do all different things,” Joseph said.
“We work in different divisions,” Ashley said. “But when we have time to talk it makes for very interesting conversations.”