Dr Tina Barsby has become chief executive of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB).
"There is renewed interest in research driven by concerns over global population growth, food security and climate change," she said. "This signals exciting new challenges for plant science."
She has replaced Professor Wayne Powell and will continue to work on a cross-institute programme in cereal genetics called Monogram.
NIAB board chairman Tony Pexton said: "Tina's scientific, commercial and managerial expertise offers the right combination to lead us into an exciting period."