Seed World

Saving Breeders Time and Money

Mark Massoudi is president of Ag-Biotech.

If breeders are like astronomers, then Dr. Mark Massoudi has a road map to the stars that can help them be successful beyond their wildest expectations.

For Dr. Mark Massoudi, plant breeders are like astronomers peering off into the universe with telescopes that are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated.

“When Galileo used his first telescope, I guarantee what he saw was quite fuzzy. Now we can look billions of light years away with great precision. Science is as good as what we know today. We become more precise as we discover more,” says Massoudi, president of the California-based Ag-Biotech.

And if plant breeders are modern-day Galileos looking off into the genetic universe of plants, he’s the man showing them where in that vast universe the most significant discoveries can be found. 

Ag-Biotech provides breeders with state-of-the-art marker-assisted selection services. After three decades in the industry, Massoudi and Ag-Biotech have amassed a wide collection of breeder’s essential trait-linked markers that act as a sort of roadmap to the genetic galaxy of plants. Having access to such services levels the playing field for breeders who lack the in-house resources of the larger players by providing them with marker-assisted selection services.

Breeders use Ag-Biotech’s services to expedite varietal development. In the Golden Age of plant breeding — before people like Massoudi had the collection of important breeder marker tools of plants and pinpointed specific genes (referred to as markers) — a breeder would have to transplant every seedling into the field, wait for it to grow, and then analyze each resulting plant for certain characteristics. Simply, this is costly, labour intensive and time consuming.

DNA-based selection will eliminate any environmental factors and influences. Now, you can simply give your germplasm, in a form of a small leaf tissue, to Massoudi, who analyzes its genetic makeup and can identify which plants have the specific genes that will endow the plant with the desired characteristics — be it disease resistance, agronomic qualities, abiotic stress levels, and more.

“Imagine the time and resources needed to transplant each and every seedling in the field. For pennies on the dollar, we do the pre-screening for you. Instead of having to put 1,000 plants in the field, it can be narrowed down to a quarter of that many,” Massoudi says.

This not only saves the breeder time, but also money.

“Those are the two most precious resources for a breeder, especially vegetable breeders. We have anchored our expertise in vegetable crops. One reason vegetable breeders come to us is we have a long array of gene-based DNA markers for different crops. Our list is long and elaborate and still growing. We have validated just about all those markers in many available germplasms.”

Ag-Biotech has a full DNA marker list in bean, cucurbit, pea, lettuce, onion, tomato, and many other crops.

Services include marker-assisted selection, DNA marker-assisted backcrossing, DNA fingerprinting, custom DNA marker development, hybrid and trait-purity analysis, genetic map construction, DNA extraction and purification, and biotechnology consulting.

Massoudi and his staff are willing to take on any science project that comes their way — something he says helps him learn more every day.

“We don’t know what kind of calls we will get. No matter how big or small the client, the information we provide is so important to them. The bottom line of any successful operation is saving them time and money so the breeder can concentrate on the task at hand.”

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