Seed World

Why Social Distancing is Impacting Plant Breeders in a Big Way

Mark Massoudi is president of Ag-Biotech.

Plant breeders get some of their best ideas working shoulder-to-shoulder. Right now, that can’t happen — and that means they need a partner to help bring some stability to their work environment.

Mark Massoudi, president of the California-based Ag-Biotech, knows what plant breeders are going through right now.

Mark Massoudi, president of the California-based Ag- Biotech, knows what plant breeders are going through right now. We’ve all had to learn to work differently. For many, that means person-to-person contact has ceased. In a profession like plant breeding, that means your workflow may have been impacted in any number of ways.

Maximizing trait selection is vital for accurate product development and for reducing the time-to-market for new varieties. That requires advanced technology, and that technology is built and operated by the company’s staff — all of whom have taken great pains to ensure a talented staff is the foundation of Ag-Bio tech’s philosophy.

“For so many companies in the plant breeding space, relationships have changed. In-person gatherings are now held virtually. Many breeders have told me that some of their most important conversations happen when they’re together or in a vehicle driving to see their research plots. Those car rides aren’t happening anymore. For a lot of people that link in the chain isn’t what it used to be,” Massoudi says.

Ag-Biotech’s genomic testing services — starting with the company’s signature Marker-Assisted Selection (MAS) — help breeders to better grow their new cultivars and, as a result, their business.

The MAS product has become a cornerstone for many seed companies over the years, but at its root is the Ag-Biotech staff, who are helping bring stability to an industry that is being challenged like never before.

“Helping breeders and companies in the seed space to be successful is a lot like sending someone to space. Sure, you see the footage on TV of the astronaut doing their spacewalk, but you don’t see all the people on the ground who make it happen,” he says.

“We spent a lot of time fi ne-tuning and honing the processes and developing our marker assay products we use in the lab. If one marker is going to behave a certain way, we want to be able to reduce the variability and potential variation in our test results in order to give our clients what they need — pertinent phenotypic information to help select individuals with desirable traits for subsequent generations.”

Massoudi notes that the nature of what plant breeders and seed companies do hasn’t changed, but the way they do it has.

“What the past nine months have done is affect people and relationships and how they take those relationships to work. Most people still shelter in place. Office interaction is extremely important for plant breeding, but breeders are having to learn to do their jobs with less physical presence,” he notes.

“How much a breeder is affected by all this depends on how the company they work with operates. Breeders need some stability right now, and we help offer them that. We can’t make plants grow faster, but we can eliminate the common bottlenecks that have stood between you and the information you need.”

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