Studies and early career
Dr Bruce Lee completed a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Hons) at the University of Sydney in 1980, followed by a Master of Science in Agriculture at the University of Sydney in 1982. He then moved to Stuttgart, Germany where he was awarded a Dr. sc.agr. (magna cum laude) in 1987.
Dr Lee undertook postdoctoral studies at Rothamsted Experimental Station in the United Kingdom working on gene expression in cereals from 1986 to 1989.
From 1989 to 2004 he worked for the seeds businesses of Ciba-Geigy, later Novartis and then Syngenta where he held various management positions in business development, licensing and research. During his time with Swiss industry, he interacted with CSIRO in the founding of the Graingene Alliance (a joint venture between AWB Ltd, the GRDC, Syngenta and CSIRO Plant Industry) and the positive testing of insecticidal proteins (VIP) against notable cotton pests (Helicoperva larvae).
Following the positive testing against Helicoperva with CSIRO, Dr Lee then led (within Novartis) the transformation of VIP into cotton, culminating in the event COT102, which is now commercialised in many cotton growing regions of the world.
His last role in industry was as the CEO of Genective from 2013 to 2018, based in Paris, France.
Dr Lee joined CSIRO in 2004 as the inaugural Director of the Food Futures Flagship and held the role for nine years until 2013, where he was the longest serving Flagship Director. He was brought into CSIRO to create greater impact from CSIRO’s research, through the creation of public and private partnerships.
Dr Lee led the overall science and business development for the Flagship through four themes undertaking research programs in the areas of:
- Future Grains and Plant Oil Production
- Breed Engineering (beef and aquaculture)
- Designed Food and Ingredients
- Quality Biosensors.
Dr Lee’s activities in establishing new research initiatives and his pivotal role at the interface of science and agribusiness/food have resulted in a number of significant achievements for CSIRO.
His contribution has also positioned the organisation with research capacity in areas for potential future impact.
- In 2011, Dr Lee led the founding of a long-term $50 million research collaboration between Nuseed, CSIRO and the GRDC to develop and commercialise vegetable oil in canola containing the same long-chain omega-3s that traditionally come from fish – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Dr Lee’s past experience and expertise in bringing GM products to the market was instrumental to the development of the product and it has now been registered and is projected to be commercialised in 2020.
- Dr Lee teamed up with Limagrain and GRDC in 2006 to work on developing wheat varieties with higher contents of amylose and resistant starch, spinning out the company Arista Cereals Technology Ltd. He served as a Director and later Chairman of Arista for seven years. During his tenure with Arista, Dr Lee led initial business development activities with Bay State Milling (USA) with high amylose wheat now having been commercialised by Bay State Milling.
- In 2005, Dr Lee led the founding of an unincorporated joint venture (UJV) between CSIRO and Australian Capital Ventures Limited (ACVL) to commercialise BARLEYmax ™, a non-GM barley. Dr Lee sat on the management committee of the UJV for over eight years and drove assessments for the grain’s potential to (1) improve health by delivering high levels of resistant starch and other dietary components and (2) concluded agreements with Austgrains Pty Ltd in 2008 to grow, produce and distribute BARLEYmax ™ grain. In 2009 a major licensing arrangement with the brand Goodness Superfoods, manufactured by the Victorian-based company, Popina Foods was concluded. In August 2009 Popina Foods, through Goodness Superfoods, released two cereals (Digestive 1st and Protein 1st) containing BARLEYmaxTM and these were distributed through major Australian supermarket retailers.
- The Flagship undertook activities in breeding barley to have significantly reduced levels of hordeins, the type of gluten found in barley. The first product to be commercialised from these activities was to be a low gluten beer, others initiated were low gluten barley crossed with BARLEYmaxTM. Dr Lee examined the regulatory requirements for low gluten beer in Australia and realised that the existing frameworks would not allow for commercialisation. He convinced GRDC, CSIRO’s partner that the only way to commercialise a beer product was in a country where the regulatory framework was already in existence. Dr Lee took up contact with Dr Lutz Krafft (a German based agrifood consultant) and this contact was instrumental in establishing a later agreement with a well known German beer producer Radeberger. Beer products made with the ultra low gluten barley (now known as Kebari® barley) are now commercially available in German supermarkets.
- In the aquaculture theme, three significant contributions were made under Dr Lee’s leadership:
- The establishment in 2004 of a long term joint project to for a selective breeding program in salmon with Salmon Enterprises of Tasmania (SALTAS). He chaired the management committee for eight years and the programs have led to significant gains for the entire industry.
- The Flagship partnered with Australian prawn farmers and through selective breeding was able to lift yields of the Black Tiger prawn in commercial production three-fold.
- A novel aquafeed ingredient NovacqTM, was developed using marine microbes and waste carbon for inclusion in shrimp feed and with assistance of Kerry Fluhr (CSIRO IP) a patent application was filed for the technology. Dr Lee led the development of a commercial plan for value capture and the initial business development with Ridley and license agreements have now been concluded and the product is now in commercial production (both in Australia and globally).
- The Flagship also undertook the initial activities in virtual fencing of cattle which has now been commercialised.
- Dr Lee was instrumental in gaining continued funding for the Theme Quality Biosensors, particularly in looking at alternative end uses of biosensors to gain continued funding.
During his tenure Dr Lee also had responsibility for major agri-food alliances and led the establishment of a significant long-term alliance with Bayer CropScience.
His work has been recognised by a number of awards including the Rabobank Leadership Award in 2010.