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Aquaculture genetics specialist celebrates 10th birthday

Xelect started as a spin-out from the University of St. Andrews, gradually evolving from a small office at the Scottish Oceans Institute to a large, custom-built, state-of-the-art laboratory.


June 12, 2023

This year, Xelect has reached a major milestone in celebrating 10 years of supporting the aquaculture industry with advanced genetics services. The company started as a spin-out from the University of St. Andrews, gradually evolving from a small office at the Scottish Oceans Institute to a large, custom-built, state-of-the-art laboratory.

The company was founded by then director of the Scottish Oceans Institute, Prof. Ian Johnston, and Tom Ashton, his PhD student. The initial idea behind Xelect was to focus on discovering genetic markers to use in breeding programs. However, in 2017, with additional funding from St. Andrews-based investment group Eos Advisory, the business pivoted in response to customer demand for comprehensive services for broodstock management and genetic improvement.

Xelect’s goal is to allow producers of all sizes to operate a world-class genetic selection program. The company has grown rapidly, establishing a team of geneticists, biologists, computer scientists and aquaculture specialists.

“Understanding of the role of genetics in aquaculture may have started later than in terrestrial farming, but we’re catching up fast. We now have a range of services suitable for everyone – whether it’s a ground-breaking advanced genomic selection program, a highly cost-effective family selection program or just short-term genetics consultancy,” said Johnston.

“While some of our main customers are here in Scotland, we’re essentially a global business, running breeding programs in 11 countries worldwide. After a global ban on travel, we were able to adapt rapidly and realized that we could establish breeding programs for customers on the other side of the world entirely remote. In fact, over the past five years, our customer base has tripled in size,” COO Chris Wallard commented.

Xelect manages programs for 13 different species and a diverse and highly international portfolio of customers. Alongside major programs for established aquaculture species, such as salmon, trout, bass, bream and shrimp, Xelect has also developed a reputation for expertise working with emergent aquaculture species, such as pangasius, kingfish and barramundi. Last month, Xelect was recognized by the UK Government in the inaugural “Made in the UK, Sold to the World Awards”, which celebrates outstanding examples of UK small businesses exporting around the world. Xelect was one of three Agriculture, Food and Drink companies awarded “highly commended” status by the UK government, alongside Fever Tree Drinks and Intelligent Growth Solutions.

Last year, global terrestrial animal genetics company Genus plc also became a shareholder and the partnership brings collaboration on animal breeding and genomic technologies with their R&D team based in the United States.

Senior breeding program manager, Marie Smedley, was the company’s first breeding program manager. “I have had the privilege of working at Xelect since kicking off its first breeding program customers in 2017. We have grown substantially, both as a team and in the sophistication of our services, but our commitment to offering customers a tailored experience has always been at the core of what we do. A breeding program is a long-term and worthy investment that secures our customer’s future position against competitors. We are now seeing impressive returns for our established customers, which is incredibly rewarding.”

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