Seed World

A Fixer at the DNA Level: Q&A with Mark Massoudi

Mark Massoudi, president of Ag Biotech, Inc., shares his excitement for fixing things at the DNA level and for Ag Biotech’s new Seed Health Lab.

Seed World: What’s your favorite music genre?
Mark Massoudi: I love them all. But what intrigues me, in everything from classical, to rock, even to advertising jingles, is how great music comes down to just a few notes — think of Beethoven’s Fifth and its “dih-dih-dih-daah.” Everything depends on it, grows from it. Composers call this “the motive.” I call it “the seed.”

SW: What did you want to grow up to be when you were younger?
MM: As a kid, I was always taking things apart. So I wanted to be an engineer — a fixer. I guess that’s what I am today, in a way. But the things I work with are really tiny… down at the DNA level.

SW: Favorite sport?
MM: Football. I’m fascinated by the fact that such a violent sport has such a delicate underpinning of strategy, like chess. That said, must they show multiple replays of every injury in slow motion? It’s bad enough that these guys’ parents see it the first time!

SW: What’s one thing you’re excited about in biotechnology?
MM: I think it’s the opportunity to feed the world more sustainably. This is the information age of agronomics. The tiniest change in genetic information can create incredible impact: as humans, what separates us from our nearest relatives is just a one-percent difference in our genome. But what a difference that makes! In the same way, things like bacteria, fungi and viruses all evolve and struggle to stay alive and virulent, so it’s our job to keep our crops ahead of them, keeping breeders effective, growers productive and people fed.

SW: Why did you decide to jump into plant genetics?
MM: Back in the late 80’s, I started paging through genetic engineering journals, and was just fascinated. “I’ve got to learn more about this!” So I pursued my PhD in it and have never looked back.

SW: What makes Ag-Biotech unique?
MM: We level the playing field for breeders who lack the in-house resources of the mega players by providing them with state-of-the-art marker-assisted selection services. Because, let’s face it, the environment doesn’t know — or care — who bred that seed. The genotype will shine through. And for the majority of vegetable crops, Ag-Biotech is simply the dominant independent lab, with the most comprehensive proprietary and validated database of molecular markers anywhere. So our overall job is to make it fast, easy and cost-effective for breeders to maximize performance, quality, consistency and yield, while minimizing their time to market. We even offer things like a free, foolproof, step-by-step sampling kit that we’ll FedEx to you. We’re also incredibly fast, with results in just days, not weeks. And we back our test results with a 100-percent accuracy guarantee.

SW: Top priorities for Ag Biotech for 2018?
MM: We’re always expanding our database of gene-based DNA markers. And I’m proud to make a kind of sneak-peek announcement for 2018: Ag-Biotech will soon be unveiling an entirely new service. It’s our Seed Health Lab, which will provide fast, accurate, and competitive testing services especially for seed companies. It’s going to be an exciting year, for us and our clients. I can’t wait.