A Session With Gigi Valdez: Lab Tech II

At InfiniteCAL, we take pride in the diversity of our employees. Our team of 50+ chemists, account managers, sample techs and compliance specialists all have unique knowledge and experiences to contribute to the lab’s success, from new method developments to client and consumer outreach and education. In this series, we’ll be interviewing one of our own about what lead them to the cannabis industry, their role in the lab, and their plans for the future.

Without further adieu, introducing our first session with Gigi Valdez, an InfiniteCAL OG and calibration extraordinaire!

Name: Gigi Valdez

Position: Lab Tech II 
University: San Diego State University
Degree: B.S. in Chemistry 
First Started at InfiniteCAL: June 2018

What made you want to start working in the cannabis industry? 

I didn’t know the cannabis industry was an option for me. One of the grad students in my research lab let me know about InfiniteCAL. 

I did my training in analytical/physical chemistry but the applications were biological. There wasn’t a lot of love out there for interdisciplinary skills; a lot of companies just weren’t into that. Even when I had my interview for this job, they looked at my instrumentation experience like,“Hmmmm, this definitely can’t be applied here because we don’t even operate with that instrument,” but they managed to find me something here where I could apply and expand my skill set.  

What were you doing before you started working  here?

I graduated college in May 2018, so while I was looking for work I was still putting in time in at my research lab trying to tie up loose ends on my project. My research was on the structural and morphological characterization of black widow egg sac silk. The study itself is interesting because it has the potential to revolutionize the textile and silk industry. 

Spiders produce silk through their spinnerets, and the organ it uses to spin web is just as convoluted as our digestive system, so the question my project was trying to answer was,”Well why is that?” 

One of the first initial steps was to break down the different types of silk that a spider can produce. Black widows use two types of silk to produce their egg cases: aciniform silk, which is what they use to capture their prey and composes the inner lining of the case, and tubuliform silk, which is a real durable, cylindrical silk that forms the outer casing. In previously published works, these types of silk were discovered in the egg cases. Before any heavy experimentation, I confirmed the presence of aciniform and tubuliform using scanning electron microscopy (SEM imaging) and measured all the fibers of egg cases I harvested that were treated with a dissolving agent of different concentrations of urea, while my control group remained untreated. 

My findings confirmed that both silks were present in the control and that my dissolving agent had worked. The solution left over from treated egg cases was then concentrated down over a series of centrifuging and then ran on a 600 MHz NMR spectrometer to investigate the proteins from dissolved fibers. I ran a diffusion ordered spectroscopy (DOSY) experiment to  isolate the protein. DOSY is primarily used to analyze mixtures of small molecules and the oligomeric state of biomolecules. It allows small, fast diffusing components to decay rapidly and leaves behind the slower, larger protein.

I thought I could try to identify some of the components coming off the protein using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), but the filtrate was too low in concentration to have a conclusive result. My next route instead was to confirm the size of the protein. I made a SDS-Page gel and did gel electrophoresis on it using the same material I prepared for NMR with some modifications. As it turns out, the protein was too large for the SDS-Page gel to separate out and I was left with a giant smear after a certain size limit. A lot of issues I was having with my project was that the protein of interest was too large to break down and run experiments on. 

If I had more time in my undergrad research, my next steps would have been to run experiments using Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI). I have high hopes for my colleagues continuing research on the study!

What’s your favorite thing about working at InfiniteCAL? 

We get to listen to music in the lab. Not a lot of places do that. My coworkers and I have similar backgrounds so we like listening to the same things and discovering new music.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?  

That’s a big question to ask right now, but hopefully in 10 years I’ll be working on my PhD, or maybe climbing the ladder somewhere into upper management positions, maybe throw my hat in for a C-suite level seat. I have really solid mentors in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry so I’m confident I’ll be able to find my way in due time. I would love to participate in a mentorship program to help entry level employees navigate their roles. What’s the point of having experience and wisdom that helped get you to where you are if you aren’t willing to share it?

How will your experience at InfiniteCAL help you reach that? 

InfiniteCAL is a startup, so I’ve watched a lot of changes happen in a short amount of time at different stages of operation. I’m seeing things that work and things that could improve, but it changes from day to day. It’s definitely taught me to be more flexible with procedure and patient with people. 

One of my main responsibilities is supporting the lab manager in instrument calibration- I make calibration curves, CCVs, laboratory control stocks and other routine work essential for laboratory operations. Since I took over these responsibilities, I am constantly reviewing and verifying work and trying to find ways to make the process less time consuming information easily accessible and comprehensible. I’ve made changes to how often things will be made, how things are recorded, etc. based on what the lab manager is seeing in the data, and it can change each time something is prepped. The work definitely keeps me on my toes and I think I do a pretty fair job of keeping it flowing by myself.

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