Seed World

Right Now, the Right Partner is Key to Your Success

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Genomic testing in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic must be fast, convenient and affordable. Dr. Mark Massoudi and Ag-Biotech provide all three.

Mark Massoudi last appeared in the pages of Seed World back in February. A lot has changed around the globe since then, but the task of feeding the world remains the same. Much as we would have enjoyed a face-to-face interview with him, we were still able to glean a lot of actionable info, for breeders, from our remote conversation.

Massoudi is president of the California-based Ag-Biotech, a trusted resource for breeders worldwide who need to make informed decisions about the crops they develop, utilizing the latest advances in biotechnology. The company’s genomic services use mainly SNP PCR protocols and other molecular based platforms for DNA marker-assisted selection and meet the highest international standards.

The pandemic has given Massoudi an opportunity to reflect on why he got into this business — and to be thankful for the fact his doors are still open and his operation is functioning, despite everything the lockdown has thrown his way.

“Just as crops require sunlight, water, and nutrients, we know that the people who develop them require accurate information, delivered quickly, confidentially, and cost-effectively,” he says. “That was my mission when I started the business back in 1997, and it still is. The pandemic may have changed the tactics, but certainly not the strategy, for us or our clients.”

Massoudi provides genomic services to companies that often lack the resources of the bigger players in the space. The pandemic has affected many of these companies, as they may have had to close down their facilities or reduce the number of staff in their offices at any one time. Many breeding programs, especially public ones, have experienced disruptions.

Over the past several weeks, Massoudi has fielded calls from many people looking for help as they forge ahead.

Mark Massoudi is president of Ag-Biotech.

A Plan for Keeping Pace

We asked him to relay, from recent personal experience during the pandemic, how he’s been able to help customers keep their businesses rolling along, in spite of the challenges they face. His response was as illuminating as it was encouraging.

“The ag industry of which we’re a part is, by definition, a vital business, so we never received any ‘shelter-in-place’ or ‘stay-at-home’ orders,” he reports. “At the same time, however, we did implement a series of precautionary steps to protect our staff and keep the laboratory clean from possible COVID-19 contamination. Such steps included disinfection of all packages received and delivered, both inside and outside.

“Fortunately,” he adds, “our lab is large enough to keep staff members properly distanced from one another. This is how we were able to maintain productivity and keep our commitments to our clients: giving them the vital information they need — and often didn’t expect to receive — during the lockdown.”

So what motivated him to push forward during this difficult time?

“We know,” explains Massoudi, “that breeders must make long-term commitments and investments of time and money to improve their crops. So we wanted to be sure that we could be there for them. We know that our services — especially during such difficult times — are crucial to help breeders quickly make a decision in order to select the elite genotypes they need to move forward to the next generation.”

Fortunately, Massoudi and his team were already prepared for remote communication with their customers: Thanks to Ag-Biotech’s online client portal, they’re able to keep breeders informed at all phases of their projects, so they stay apprised of progress, efficiently and confidentially. “Yet despite the experience, high-touch service, and scientific precision we offer, Ag-Biotech’s services are actually quite affordable,” Massoudi proudly relates.

And Massoudi’s facilities and offerings represent the state of the art: “We boast single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) PCR assays, and flexible 96-, 384-, and 1,536-well PCR plates to contain costs while maximizing throughput. We use high-speed non-contact liquid dispensing for clean and accurate data. We boast rapid fluorescence detection for the most sensitive assays available. We employ a variety of DNA markers for accurate identification, including simple sequence repeats (SSR), cleaved amplified polymorphic DNA (CAPS), sequence characterized amplified regions (SCAR), sequence-related amplified polymorphism (SRAP), and inter-simple sequence repeat (ISSR). We adhere to Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), too.”

While a lot has changed in the world, the basic elements that make for a successful season have not, Massoudi notes: “Keep this in mind and I’m confident that breeders will not only survive 2020, but thrive as the business of feeding the world continues as it should.”