Advances in genetic mapping are making it easier, as well as much more complicated, to develop new fruit and vegetable verities.

The entire genetic fingerprint for a tomato is available now, and science is getting to that level on a lot of other commodities, said Dan Burdett, president of vegetable seeds for North America for Syngenta.

“There’s a lot of technology around genetic fingerprinting,” Burdett said. “When you can track, especially a consumer trait, back to a molecular marker, then you can really develop to consumer demand, and can steer product development.”

Genetic marking is what got Syngenta back into the lettuce business after cutting its lettuce product lines 15 years ago. Lettuce had become commoditized, and because of its open pollination, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for seed companies to innovate.

“Now we can do genetic fingerprinting on varieties, so you can have intellectual property,” Burdett said. “Now you can get patents and properties, so that part of the industry is attractive again.”

In December, Syngenta purchased two California-based seed companies, which should help it develop more products for California and Arizona lettuce growers.

Pybas Seed Co., Santa Maria, is strong in iceberg lettuce and celery, and Synergene Seed and Technology, Salinas, is primarily a romaine and baby broccoli seed developer, Burdett said.

It’ll take a few years incorporating Syngenta’s competencies with these companies’ specialties before a big change is realized, Burdett said.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. is also working with some newer acquisitions, De Ruiter Seeds for greenhouses and other protected growing, Seminis for field vegetables, and Western Seed.

David Stark, vice president of consumer traits for Monsanto, said molecular markers are just starting to be applied in a big way in the vegetable industry.

“I’m really excited about the strides we can make just in breeding,” Stark said. “But we’ll have more biotech traits in the future.”