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24, chemin de Borde Rouge –Auzeville – CS52627
31326 Castanet Tolosan CEDEX - France

Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

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An interview with Jan Gielen

Syngenta, a leader in plant breeding and seed production, has been supporting the IWGSC since 2011. We are very grateful for their continuous support and are proud to count this innovative plant breeding company as our sponsor. Since we first began partnering with Syngenta, their scientists have provided critical advice and suggestions for ensuring that the genomic tools the IWGSC develops will be those which industry needs to accelerate crop improvement. Because of their strong support, we were able to stand firm in our quest to provide a high quality reference sequence of bread wheat. This partnership has also meant that Syngenta is better prepared to take advantage of the tools and resources that we develop. The public-private partnership and collaboration has been the foundation for the success of the Consortium.

About Syngenta

Syngenta is a world-leading plant science company committed to promoting sustainable agriculture through innovation research and technology. Growing crops has become increasingly complex due to many factors, including environmental concerns, climate change, fluctuating commodity prices, and customer demands. In that context, Syngenta has put sustainable agriculture at the center of its research targets. We are constantly innovating by combining plant breeding with mathematics, genomics, physiology and agronomy to develop superior varieties for more sustainable crops. Advanced seeds, including innovative hybrid varieties and biotech crops help mitigate risks such as disease and drought and allow farmers to grow food using less land, less water and fewer inputs. We bring a particularly strong offering in corn, soybean, sunflower, cereals and vegetables that allow our customers to face the challenges of modern agriculture in a rapidly changing environment. Our aim is to help feed a growing population by bringing plant potential to life.

Syngenta representative in the IWGSC Coordinating Committee


Jan Gielen
Senior Scientist

Jan Gielen holds a Ph.D. from the Agricultural University in Wageningen and has spent his entire career with Syngenta at breeding stations in the Netherlands and France. Initially focusing on the development of transgenic crops, he gradually moved into marker-assisted breeding and trait dissection research with a specialization in flowering time control and hybridization systems. Over the years, he acquired a solid experience in the modern breeding of vegetables and field crops and currently dedicates a substantial amount of his time to trait discovery in cereals, including hybrid wheat.

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

The partnership of experts from both the public and private sector has been key to the success of the IWGSC. The contribution and expertise of the different participants revealed extremely complementary in the effort of sequencing the wheat genome.

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

For a breeding company like Syngenta the discovery and management of variants in support of marker-assisted breeding is essential. The partnership with the IWGSC has greatly accelerated the development and deployment of markers in modern wheat breeding. The combination of the reference sequence and the exome capture service provided by Arbor Biosciences proved truly powerful for the purpose of variant discovery and the allelic characterization for a range of trait loci in wheat.

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?

The genome sequence of Chinese Spring has become the reference in all mapping efforts in Syngenta. In that respect the quality and completeness of the genome sequence is crucial. We recognize that Chinese Spring may not always be best possible representative of elite breeding programs, but the quality of the genome sequence thus far has met the requirements. The release of additional high-quality reference genomes in the near future will further enhance the foundation provided by the physical maps.

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?

The access to sequence information has been instrumental to native trait research in wheat from the very first day they became available. Culminating in the publication of the IWGSC RefSeq v1.0 in 2018, the successive releases of wheat genomic sequences and resources have facilitated inhouse efforts in marker-assisted breeding. The observation that genetic maps are gradually being replaced by physical maps in breeding projects further illustrates the impact of the reference sequence.

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?

With the advent of mutation breeding and genome editing the borders between native and engineered traits are getting blurred. The proper assembly and annotation of the reference genome obviously are essential here, especially in a hexaploid crop like wheat in order to provide a solid foundation for future trait discovery.

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

The impact of genomics in plant breeding will only increase during the years to come. The proper management and coordination of various initiatives and activities in the area of wheat genomics is essential to secure the return on investment. The IWGSC hopefully will continue to play an important role in federating partners from both the public and private sector and to represent the consortium to external stakeholders and government bodies.

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

Hybridization in cereals represents a major opportunity to improve the sustainability of the wheat growing globally. Improving yields and crop safety while reducing entrants is a huge challenge that calls upon a range of technologies including genomic tools and resources. Despite the past failures, the current state of the technology in modern breeding makes it possible that hybrid wheat stands its chance to succeed this time.