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An interview with John Jacobs

BASF has been supporting the IWGSC since 2019 and we are proud to count this innovative company as our sponsor. The IWGSC has been working with the BASF (and predecessor company) team in Ghent, Belgium, since 2011. They have played a critical role as leaders and collaborators in all the consortium’s activities which culminated in the publication of the high-quality, reference genome sequence of bread wheat in Science in 2018. Since then, the BASF team has been involved, as part of the Coordinating Committee, in shaping and helping move forward with the IWGSC Phase II activities.

About BASF

With a rapidly growing population, the world is increasingly dependent on our ability to develop and maintain sustainable agriculture and healthy environments. Working with farmers, agricultural professionals, pest management experts and others, it is our role to help make this possible. That’s why we invest in a strong R&D pipeline and broad portfolio, including seeds and traits, chemical and biological crop protection, soil management, plant health, pest control and digital farming. With expert teams in the lab, field, office and in production, we connect innovative thinking and down-to-earth action to create real world ideas that work – for farmers, society and the planet. For more information, please visit or any of our social media channels.

BASF representative in IWGSC Coordinating Committee

John Jacobs


Program Leader, Crop Efficiency
Ghent, Belgium
John Jacobs holds a PhD from Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands and did a post doc at the University of Ghent (Belgium). He has been with BASF and predecessor companies, going back to the plant biotechnology pioneering company Plant Genetic System. John has been a member of the IWGSC Coordinating committee since 2011. John’s current research project at BASF focuses on hybrid wheat and oilseed rape, with a special interest in hybridization systems and tools and technologies for breeding.

In general, what are the benefits of participating in public-private research consortia?

Public private research consortia offer a great opportunity to remain connected to the public/private R&D community and advance shared precompetitive projects, for the benefit of all stakeholders.

What have been the greatest benefits of BASF’s partnership with the IWGSC?

The Chinese Spring reference genome sequence is a landmark achievement and has helped us a lot in many of our research projects and breeding activities.

Achieving a high-quality reference sequence was the highest priority for the IWGSC. What difference does the completeness of genome sequences make for your breeding programs and trait discovery?

Completeness removes ambiguity and uncertainty from our projects. It is a great asset when you can trust the sequence and annotation of your genes of interest. Having said this, new ambiguities creep in when switching to other donor genomes.

The IWGSC wheat reference sequence (IWGSC RefSeq v1.0) has been available in advance of publication since 2016, what impact has it had on your work/company?

It allowed us to rapidly move forward with several gene cloning and marker development projects supporting our Trait Development and Breeding programs.

In IWGSC phase 2.0, we are working on manual and functional annotation of the IWGSC reference sequence. In addition to what you have now, what will this enable you to do in your applications?

Annotations are often based on prediction, or translation from other species, while supported by limited experimental evidence. Therefore, they can be incorrect and are the weak spot of many genomes. Delivering a reliable, experimentally validated, and manually curated annotation of all genes is a very important next step, allowing us to move on with less delays and more confidence in each of our specific projects.

There is a growing need to increase the sustainability of agricultural production. What role does genomic tools and resources play in improving sustainability?

BASF is working on developing next-generation wheat hybrids, could you talk a little bit about that?Sustainability requires a refocus on traits that improve resilience and resource use efficiency of crops. These are generally complex traits, based on native genes. The genomic toolbox offers opportunities to identify and harness high-resolution genomic and gene-based information essential in all genetic approaches for the development of sustainable solutions, including predictive breeding and precision breeding.

BASF is working on developing next-generation wheat hybrids, could you talk a little bit about that?

BASF utilizes diverse germplasm and genetics from key wheat growing regions around the world to develop leading hybrids with native value-added traits such as increased yield and quality, as well as disease and insect resistance that address specific local needs and conditions. With an extensive global trial network and proven local performance, BASF is working to meet the unique needs of farmers, partners, and the entire value chain. 

What will be the impacts of these next-generation hybrid wheat on farmers, consumers, and the wheat industry in general?

Hybrid wheat provides new value for the industry, as farmers and partners worldwide can rely on wheat with stable yields and good grain quality. Through the delivery of consistent yield and quality, farmers will be able to continue to produce high-quality wheat for domestic and export markets and for the rest of the wheat value chain. BASF hybrid wheat will facilitate access to more quality wheat, providing more people around the world with the nutritional benefits of wheat.

Is there anything that the IWGSC is not currently planning that you wish would be part of the strategic activities of the consortium?

I value the webinar series very much and would like to see the IWGSC develop this further as a scientific community-building platform. On a grander scale, agriculture is facing great challenges and going through transformational times. The IWGSC provides unique opportunities to engage with scientific peers in academia and industry to harness the power of genomes for the discovery of genes and traits contributing to a sustainable future of (hybrid) wheat.

See also