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KBC Appoints Dr Roger Hellens As Chief Technology Officer

The Kiwifruit Breeding Centre (KBC) is delighted to be able to announce that Dr Roger Hellens will be joining as the inaugural Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

Dr Roger Hellens

KBC is a 50/50 joint venture between Plant & Food Research and Zespri. It has been established to drive greater innovation within kiwifruit breeding, and to create healthier, better tasting and more sustainability-focused varieties.

KBC’s CEO, Dr Matt Glenn, says “the appointment of Dr Hellens followed an extensive recruitment search and we are delighted to have been able to attract such a high quality and experienced candidate."

“The CTO role is a strategic, externally focused role, exploring commercially available technologies and germplasm to bring into KBC to support us to deliver ‘better cultivars quicker’. The role will be an integral part of the Senior Leadership Team focusing on external relationships with universities, research centres and industry, both domestically and internationally, and will lead the strategic direction of the science at KBC,” says Dr Glenn.

Roger will take up the new role at the end of February.

About Dr Hellens

Roger is a life scientist with over 30 years’ experience leading and conducting industry-oriented transdisciplinary research. In 2020 Roger joined Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institute Limited) as General Manager - Forests to Timber Products, overseeing research from tree breeding, forest establishment, forest protection, and wood processing to timber construction.

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Prior to this, Roger was a Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He worked in the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, holding several leadership positions, including Associate Dean, Research and Deputy Executive Director of the Institute for Future Environments (IFE).

From 2000 to 2014, Roger worked for The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research (formerly HortResearch). He held several senior roles, including leading the institute’s genomics research and kiwifruit breeding programmes. Roger’s research interests at Plant & Food Research included developing red-fleshed apple and kiwifruit varieties and exploiting next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques to help accelerate the development of new cultivars. He also maintained a keen interest in post-transcriptional gene regulation, which has become relevant in understanding the regulation of vitamin C.

Before moving to New Zealand, Roger worked at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, where he developed the first genetic map of pea. This fed into his PhD determining the molecular basis of Mendel’s white flower phenotype. He also developed the pGreen plant transformation vector and studied gene silencing (RNAi) in petunia. Roger received a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of East Anglia in 1995 and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Liverpool in 1989.

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