William James (Jim) Peacock

By Colin WardSeptember 19th, 2014


William James Peacock was born at Leura, NSW, on 14 December 1937. He graduated BSc (First-Class Honours), University of Sydney in 1958 and PhD from University of Sydney in 1963. In 1963-64, he was a postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biology, University of Oregon and joined the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry as a Senior Research Scientist in 1965.

He had an outstanding career at CSIRO being promoted to the level of Chief Research Scientist in 1977. He was Chief of the Division of Plant Industry for 26 years (1978-2003) and a CSIRO Fellow and Chair of the Office of the Chief Executive Science team from 2004.

He was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), the nation’s highest honour, in 1994 and was Australia’s Chief Scientist from 2006 to 2008.

Dr Peacock has made an outstanding contribution to Australian science through his:

  • original research
  • science policy and administration
  • science education
  • interactions with industry.

His commitment to science, to CSIRO and his belief in science and its benefits for industry and society have been compelling. He was a visionary leader and his commitment to both fundamental science and to industry-partnered science ensured CSIRO Plant Industry is one of the top plant research institutes in the world. His laboratory pioneered molecular biology techniques in Australian plant science. This included the first isolation of a plant transposable element, the isolation of stress protection genes and the demonstration of genetic and epigenetic controls of flowering in Arabidopsis and cereals.

Dr Peacock’s activities, at the interface between science and modern agribusiness, have resulted in the commercial uptake of genetically modified cotton.

He founded the:

  • Gene Shears Company
  • Graingene Alliance (a joint venture between AWB Ltd, the GRDC, Syngenta and CSIRO Plant Industry)
  • High Rainfall Zone Wheat Company.

His communication skills, his willingness to speak to the public and to bring them the excitement of modern science have been of enormous benefit to Australia. Dr Peacock has actively promoted science education in Australian schools. He has championed a successful new program for Primary Schools which links science with literacy. He also established the Discovery Centre which showcases CSIRO research activities to students and the general public and includes:

  • the Green Machine facility where school pupils have hands-on science experience
  • Industry Link where key decision makers of industry learn the value of supporting modern science, particularly gene technology.

Fellowship of learned societies

2002-06 President (PresAA), Australian Academy of Science
1990 Foreign Associate, US National Academy of Sciences
1990 Foreign Fellow, Indian National Science Academy
1989 FAIAS, Fellow, The Australian Institute of Agricultural Science
1988 FTSE, Fellow, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
1982 FRS Fellow, The Royal Society of London
1976 FAA, Fellow, Australian Academy of Science

Honorary degrees

2008 DSc (honoris causa), University of New South Wales
2004 DSc (honoris causa), Ghent University, Belgium
2002 DScAg (honoris causa), University of Sydney
1996 DSc (honoris causa), Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga

Honours and awards

2012 Rabobank Leadership Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the food and agricultural industries.
2005 CSIRO Lifetime Achievement Award
2004 Academia Bibliotheca Alexandrinae, Foundation Member
2000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science (with Dr Elizabeth Dennis)
1999 The Farrer Memorial Medal
1996 Cited in The Bulletin, one of Australia’s 10 most creative minds and their visions for the future Dec 1996/Jan 1997, pp.27-40
1995 Cited in Barry Jones, MP, list of 75 Australian High Flyers The Australian Way, Nov 1995
1995 Cited in The Independent Monthly 10 Australian Scientists (Paul Davies, John Eccles, Frank Fenner, Philip Law, Nossal/Miller/Metcalf, James Peacock, Roger Short, John Shine, Alan Walsh, Paul Wild), Aug 1995
1994 AC (Companion of The Order of Australia)
1989 CSIRO Medal for Leadership of the Division of Plant Industry
1989 Burnet Medal, Australian Academy of Science for Distinguished contributions in the Biological Sciences
1988 BHP Bicentennial Prize for the Pursuit of Excellence in Science and Technology
1987 NI Vavilov Medal, Vavilov Institute ‘ Distinguished contributions to world plant genetic resources
1985 University of Georgia Bicentennial Medal, Plenary Lecturer, 1st International Congress of Plant Molecular Biology
1984 International Board of Plant Genetic Resources, 10th Anniversary Medal, Contributions to plant genetic resources
1982 University Seal, Louvain, Belgium, University lecture in plant molecular biology
1978 Lemberg Medal, Australian Biochemical Society ‘ Distinguished contributions to biochemistry
1967 Edgeworth David Medal, Royal Society of NSW ‘ Distinguished research in science amongst younger workers

Distingued lectures

1996 Biochemistry Alumni Lecture, The University of Queensland
1993 Quantum Interview Series, ABC Science Unit
1993 Special Lecture, XV International Botanical Congress, Yokohama, Japan
1992 Marsho-Schwartz Memorial Lecturer, University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA
1990 Morel Lecture, Versailles, France
1990 Trends in Biotechnology Seminar, Stockholm, Sweden
1989 McKnight Foundation Seminar, Yale University, New Haven
1989 Burnet Lecture, Australian Academy of Science
1989 Distinguished Centenary Lecturer, Cold Spring Harbor Research Laboratory, New York
1988 Distinguished Lecturer in Life Sciences, Boyce Thompson Research Institute, Cornell University, New York
1988 Johannsen Lecture, International Congress of Genetics, Toronto, Canada
1985 Centenary Lecture, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney
1985 Allied Corporation Lecture on Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology, Rutgers University
1984 Distinguished Lecture in Biological Chemistry, Washington State University
1982 University Lecture in Plant Molecular Biology, University of Louvain, Belgium
1981 Butler Lecturer, University of Queensland
1979 Australia-Germany Lecturer, Australian Biochemical Society
1978 Lemberg Lecturer, Australian Biochemical Society
1976 Hannaford Lecturer, University of Adelaide

National and international scientific committees

Since 1975, he has served on a number of national and international scientific committees for the Australian Government, the Australian Academy of Science, the Government of Victoria, the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research, the International Union of Biological Sciences, and the International Council for Science. Details are as follows:

2009 Annals of Botany PLANTS Advisory Panel
2009 Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) External Advisory Board (UK)
2009 Chinese Academy of Science International Advisory Board
2009 UNSW Faculty of Science Advisory Council American/Australian Association Education Fund
2006 – 08 BIOTEC International Advisory Board member
2006 – 08 Appointments as Chief Scientist ‘ Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) Executive Officer; Research Quality Framework (Chair); Higher Education Endowment Fund Advisory Committee; NCRIS; National Science Forum; CRC Committee; CSTACI; PM Science Prizes; Australia-India Research Fund
2005 National Research Priorities Standing Committee (Chair)
2003 Congress President, International Genetics Congress
1998 – 2002 Member, Advisory Committee on Genetic Experimentation and Biotechnology (ACOGEB), International Council for Science
1998 Member, Asia-Pacific International Molecular Biology Network
1998 International Committee, Australian Academy of Science
1998 Member, ACT Science and Technology Council
1998 – 2001 Council Member, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
1995 – 98 Chairman, Impact Assessment and Evaluation Group, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
1995 – 98 Council Member, Australian Academy of Science
1995 Burnet Medal and Lecture Awards Committee
1995 Member, Advisory Committee, 10th International Biotechnology Symposium, Sydney, Australia
1994 Member, Foresight Committee, Center for International Agricultural Research
1994 CSIRO representative to Council and Executive Committee, Bread Research Institute of Australia Inc.
1994 – 2001 The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, The Crawford Fund Board of Governors
1994 International Steering Committee, ‘Harnessing Apomixis: A New Frontier in Plant Science’
1993 France/Australia Industrial Research (FAIR) Agreement, Agribusiness Sub-Group
1992 President, Organising Committee, International Genetics Congress 1998 Bid
1991 – 95 Member, Australian Science and Technology, Council (ASTEC)
1991 – 93 Awards Committee of Council, Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
1991 External Review of International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), Nairobi
1990 – 93 Multinational Arabidopsis Genome Project
1990 Member, International Advisory Board, Asia-Pacific/International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology
1988 Member, International Scientific Advisory Board for VIIth International Association Plant Tissue Culture Congress, Amsterdam
1988 Leader, Australian Biotechnology Mission to the European Community
1987 – 89 Chairman, Board of Trustees, International Board of Plant Genetic Resources
1987 Member, Review Committee, Faculty of Science Molecular Biology Review, Australian National University
1987 Member, Expert Panel, Biotechnology Centre, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi
1986 – 89 Chairman, Executive and Program Committees, International Board for Plant Genetic Resources
1986 – 90 Member, Cotton Research Council, Department of Primary Industry, Australia
1985 International Program Committee, International Genetics Federation
1985 – 89 Member, Executive of International Board for Plant Genetic Resources
1985 – 88 Member, Board of Directors, International Society for Plant Molecular Biology
1984 Member, Science and Industry Forum, Australian Academy of Science
1984 – 88 Member, Sectional Committee V, Australian Academy of Science
1984 – 85 Member, National Committee on Science Research Funding, Australian Academy of Science
1983 Vice President, XV International Congress of Genetics
1982 Chairman, School Biology Project Committee, Australian Academy of Science
1982 – 89 Member, International Board for Plant Genetic Resources
1982 – 85 Member, Cogene Committee, International Council of Scientific Unions
1982 – 83 Member, Gottschalk Medal Committee, Australian Academy of Science
1982 Member, Australian Bicentennial Authority Science Task Force
1981 – 90 Member, Discussion Meetings Committee, Australian Academy of Science
1981 – 83 Member, Australian Recombinant DNA Monitoring Committee, Department of Science
1981 – 83 Member, Scientific Sub-committee, Australian Recombinant DNA Monitoring Committee, Department of Science
1981 Member, Review Committee, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University
1980 – 85 Chairman, Boden Biology Conference Committee, Australian Academy of Science
1980 – 81 Member, Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship Committee, Department of Science
1979 – 81 Member, National Committee of Biological Sciences, Australian Academy of Science
1979 – 80 Chairman, Sectional Committee VII, Australian Academy of Science
1978 – 82 Member, School Biology Project Committee, Australian Academy of Science
1978 – 81 Member, Plant Production Committee, Standing Committee of Agriculture
1977 – 81 Member, Sectional Committee VII, Australian Academy of Science
1977 – 80 Member, Australian Research Grants Committee, Department of Science
1975 – 80 Member, Standing Committee on Recombinant DNA Research, Australian Academy of Science

Industry appointments

2004 – 06 Eminent Scientists Group, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Import Risk Analyses)
2003 Governor, Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation
2003 Board Member, CRC Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology
2002 – 06 Director, Australian Foundation for Science (Australian Academy of Science)
2002 Governor, Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation (Jun ‘ Nov 2002)
2001 Chairman, Ascentia Pty Ltd (formerly BarleyPlus)
2001 Board Member, NSW Centre for Agricultural Genomics
1999 Member, Scientific Expert Panel of the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s Food Science Bureau
1999 – 2003 Board Member, Australian Cotton CRC
1998 Chairman, Gene Shears Pty Ltd
1993 – 99 Board Member, CRC for Sustainable Cotton Production (renamed Australian Cotton CRC in 1999)
1992 – 2002 Member, Research Advisory Board, Goodman Fielder Ltd
1991 – 98 Chairman, Gene Shears Board Scientific Subcommittee
1990 – 2002 Director, Cotton Research and Development Corporation
1989 – 98 Director, Gene Shears Pty Ltd
1986 Chairman, Scientific Advisory Board AGEN (Australian Genetic Engineering Co.)
1985 – 89 Director, Bioplantech Ltd, State Government of Victoria
1984 – 87 Consultant, Agrigenetics Ltd
1984 Research Management Adviser, Agrigenetics Ltd
1983 – 85 Director, SIRATAC Ltd

Associated research positions

1992 – 95 Academic Adviser, Laboratory of Plant Cell & Chromosome Engineering, Institute of Genetics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing
1990 Member, Scientific Advisory Committee to the Rockefeller Foundation for the International Program on Rice Biotechnology
1991 – 98 Co-Director, Plant Science Cooperative Research Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra
1991 Adjunct Professor, The Australian National University, Canberra
1985 – 93 Member, Scientific Council to the Plant Gene Expression Centre, USDA, Albany California
1977 Visiting Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology, University of California, Los Angeles
1970 – 71 Visiting Professor of Biochemistry, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
1969 – 70 Adjunct Professor of Biology, University of California, San Diego
1965 Research Consultant, Biology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
1964 – 65 Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Biology, University of Oregon

Editorial boards of scientific journals

2000 Editorial Advisory Board, Encyclopaedia of Plant and Crop Science
1999 – 2000 Editorial Board, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
1997 International Advisory Board, Transactions of the Malaysian Society of Plant Physiology
1997 Program Advisory Board Member, CAB International
1990 – 95 Editorial Board, Biotechnology, Agriculture Book Series, CAB International
1991 – 94 Executive Advisory Board, Encyclopedia of Agricultural Sciences, Academic Press
1989 – 93 Corresponding Editor, Proceedings of The Royal Society, Series B
1989 Editorial Board, Euphytica
1988 – 94 Editorial Advisory Board, AgBiotech News & Information, CAB International
1987 – 91 Scientific Advisory Board, Australian Journal of Biotechnology
1987 – 89 Editorial Board, FASEB Journal
1986 – 91 Editorial Board, Plant, Cell and Environment
1985 – 95 Editorial Board, Journal of Genetics, India
1985 – 86 Editorial Board, Plant Molecular Biology Reporter
1983 – 88 Editor, Nucleic Acids Research
1980 – 89 Editor, Genetical Research
1980 – 82 Editor, Biochemistry International
1979 – 89 Advisory Editor, International Review of Cytology
1979 – 84 Editorial Advisory Committee, Australian Journal of Biological Sciences