Carlos Iglesias: New Director of the Plant Breeding Consortium

Carlos Iglesias with a wolf sculpture

Carlos Iglesias joined the N.C. State Plant Breeding Consortium in January as its new director.

In January the Plant Breeding Consortium welcomed Carlos Iglesias as its new director and to NC State. He is also a professor in the department of Horticultural Science.

The Plant Breeding Consortium is an organization composed of more than 35 faculty in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Natural Resources, and their students, focused on developing new plant varieties and diverse breeding lines.

Iglesias comes to the position with decades of experience leading plant breeding programs in the public and private sectors. He has worked with many different crops including wheat, corn, popcorn and cassava, a starchy root that is a critical staple crop around the globe including sub-Saharan Africa.

What did you do prior to coming to NC State?

After I received my Ph.D. in plant breeding from Iowa State University, I worked for almost 10 years at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia as the global lead for the cassava breeding program. Then, I moved to Indiana to work in the popcorn business as head of research and development and seed production for the Weaver Popcorn Co. In 2012, I joined Syngenta in Brazil to lead corn research and development for Latin America. In 2015, I moved back to the U.S. to lead wheat research and development for North America, and later to lead all of the wheat business in North America.

What aspect of the Plant Breeding Consortium interested you?

NC State’s breeding programs go beyond academic breeding, they actually do breeding that makes significant market impacts. NC State’s varieties provided critical support for the development of markets for tobacco, peanuts and sweet potatoes. Our group works in tight collaboration with different stakeholders that are relevant for the state and the region. We also excel in collaborating across departments, across institutions and across states. I saw the Plant Breed Consortium as an excellent base upon which to build the plant breeding educational, research and collaborative platform of the future.

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Where do you see the Plant Breeding Consortium in five years, under your leadership?

In the early days of plant breeding, one breeder did everything. Now plant breeding is a team game. The most successful breeding programs at NC State are those that closely collaborate with the industry, commodity groups, colleagues in different disciplines areas and at international institutions. Collaboration is in the DNA of our organization, we just need to express it better, and to make sure that plant breeding science at NC State is much more than the sum of the individual programs at the end of the next 5 years. This focus on collaboration and team science will also reflect on the professional, managerial and leadership potential of the graduate students we are training to be the world’s future plant breeders.

Tell us about your research program. Why are new sources of plant-based protein becoming more and more important? 

Coming from the industry, I did not have a research program or lab to bring with me. This gave me the opportunity to create a program based on a few guiding principles:

  1. To work in new species that I have never worked with before
  2. To work with crops that are linked to current or potential high value markets
  3. To work with crops that would directly impact human nutrition
  4. A program that would improve environmental sustainability
  5. A program that could bring in diverse partners to explore synergies and deliver results

Looking at the projected evolution of the plant-based protein market and the potential impact on human nutrition and environmental sustainability, I see that NC State could make tremendous contributions to the development of that market. Especially given the wide range of stakeholders here and the potential to make North Carolina the hub for producing crops high in protein and the supplying the East Coast with plant-based protein products.

What advice do you have for college students considering going into plant breeding? 

Plant breeding is one of the most rewarding careers a person could think of. We have the chance to shape the future of how food and industrial crops are grown, processed and consumed. We have the tools to help the world evolve to feed its population at peak nutrition, and yet preserve the planet’s environment for continued production and healthy living. A career in plant breeding will get you out of bed every day with the excitement of doing things that could change the world, and on top of that, you would be paid!

During your career, go beyond corn and soybean and get to know minor crops, which are at least as exciting if not more. Try working on an international program, if only for a short time, and always maintain a close relationship with the markets you are serving. Most of all: Have fun!

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