Vale Bernie Bindon
Professor Bernard “Bernie” Michael Bindon (1940-2022)
By Professor Heather Burrow, Bernie’s successor at the Beef CRC
Friends and colleagues of Professor Bernie Bindon, a distinguished UNE alumnus who maintained a long association with the University, were saddened to hear of his death in Brisbane on 26th March 2022.
Bernie dedicated his life’s work to animal science and its application. His career path covered many areas within basic and applied research in reproductive physiology, genetics, immunology, nutrition, meat science and genomics, and associated roles in research leadership, supervision and management.
A proud UNE alumnus, Bernie subsequently went on to achieve international recognition for his ground-breaking research. Together with his collaborators, he made significant contributions to animal science by improving the knowledge of mechanisms regulating reproductive functions and in elucidating the physiology and genetics of high fecundity livestock. The collaborative studies he undertook with many colleagues of the reproductive biology and genetics of the Booroola Merino were amongst the most extensive ever conducted on domestic livestock. He was instrumental in the development of immunological techniques to control ovulation rate and in examining the application of these and other techniques to increase beef cattle reproductive output.
Bernie was also an outstanding mentor and leader to his many postgraduate students and to many scientific and industry collaborators over many years. He was widely recognised for his leadership roles, initially as Assistant Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Animal Production and Officer in Charge of the CSIRO Laboratories in Armidale and subsequently as the Foundation Director (1993-2000) and then CEO (1999-2005) of the very successful Beef Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Amongst his numerous awards, in 2005 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Rural Science from UNE, recognising his extraordinary achievements through the Beef CRC and as a CSIRO livestock researcher.
Bernie Bindon came from a pioneering dairy farming family on the Richmond River in northern New South Wales. Following primary schooling in the Lismore area, his secondary schooling was at St Joseph’s College in Sydney where he was a good student and an outstanding rugby player.
He enrolled into UNE in 1958 as one of the third intake of students into the Rural Science program, started in 1956 by Professor Bill McClymont. In addition to his studies, as a member of Robb College at UNE, he continued his rugby career with distinction, being selected as a member of the New South Wales team in his final year at UNE. During this time Bernie met his future wife, Robin, who was then a Bachelor of Arts student at UNE.
Graduating in late 1961, Bernie started work with Professor Euan Roberts in the School of Wool and Pastoral Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. His long-term interests in reproductive physiology were kindled by early collaborative work on the control of oestrus and regulation of ovarian activity, and of fertility in sheep.
In early 1963, Bernie joined the CSIRO Division of Animal Physiology (Beef Cattle Physiology Unit) as an experimental scientist in Brisbane led by Dr Don Lamond. This was the first group in Australia to systematically undertake work on the reproductive physiology and reproductive management of beef cattle. During his time with CSIRO from 1963 to 1966 he also completed a Masters’ program on the endocrine control of oestrus and ovarian cycles in sheep and was awarded an MRur Sci from UNE in 1966.
In addition to his work at that time with cattle and sheep, Bernie and Don Lamond collaborated in some fundamental endocrinological studies. It was this area of research that he expanded for his PhD program in the Department of Veterinary Physiology, University of Sydney, under the supervision of Professor Cliff Emmens. Also studying with Prof. Emmens was Keith Entwistle, later UNE’s Dean of Sciences and a lifelong friend and collaborator of Bernie.
The focus of his PhD studies from 1967 to 1970, on an Australian Meat Research Corporation Scholarship, was on pituitary and ovarian regulation of implantation in laboratory rodents and sheep. This was a period of extraordinary productivity as he collaborated widely with a number of colleagues in the department and in other institutions in Australia and overseas, publishing at least 17 papers on his PhD work. The major outcome was a precise understanding of the endocrine mechanisms that signal the start of pregnancy, involving hypothalamic, pituitary, ovarian and uterine interactions, with considerable work undertaken on hormonal control of implantation in sheep.
Despite Bernie’s prodigious scientific effort over almost 10 years, Bernie found time to marry Robin in 1963, start their family (Mark, Jim, Catherine and Prue), and continue to indulge in his lifelong passion of Rugby Union football. He achieved fame as a quick and skilful back, either centre or five-eighth, being selected for both NSW and Queensland representative teams as well as playing for his clubs in Brisbane (Wests) and Sydney (Drummoyne). His passion for rugby remained with him throughout his life, and for many years he coached UNE student College teams. Into his mid-sixties, he continued to play Golden Oldies Rugby as a member of the Walcha Baa-Baa’s team.
On completion of his PhD studies in 1970, Bernie rejoined CSIRO in the Division of Animal Genetics based at North Ryde, and started to develop an extensive reproductive research program utilising the sheep flocks based at the CSIRO Research Stations Arding and Longford at Armidale. In 1972, he was joined at CSIRO by Laurie Piper, a former UNE student friend and fellow rugby player, who had just returned from Scotland having completed PhD studies in quantitative genetics. Over the next two decades Bernie and Laurie developed an outstanding collaborative team that became one of the premier reproductive physiology and genetics research groups in the world. They undertook leading edge research on the physiological mechanisms responsible for genetic differences in fertility in farm livestock, as well as collaborating on a range of other projects. In particular, their collaborative studies of the highly prolific Booroola Merino sheep enabled them to elicit a strong and ground-breaking understanding of the reproductive function of these animals, where they demonstrated the increased prolificacy was due to a very high ovulation rate resulting from a single major gene (FecB) or a closely linked group of genes.
During this time, Bernie also made significant contributions to international animal science research, taking a six-month study leave program at the INRA Reproductive Physiology Research Centre at Nouzilly, France in 1974–75 that also included a visit to Morocco to study first-hand the highly prolific Moroccan D’man sheep breed. During his stay in France and in between periods of intensive work, Bernie also found time for rugby in a University team in Tours, playing with students and other young INRA colleagues. In addition to his increasingly heavy research workload at Armidale during the early 1980s, Bernie was involved in the management of a number of reproductive research projects, supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Latin America, Malaysia, Kenya and North Africa. He also developed and supervised a series of training courses in reproductive endocrinology for United Nations and IAEA staff from Peru and Thailand. As a result of his work with prolific sheep breeds, he also participated in an expert panel commissioned by USAID to study prolific sheep breeds in the Near East and North Africa.
Active researcher to research leadership and management
In recognition of his research leadership attributes, Bernie was promoted in 1989 to the position of Assistant Chief of the CSIRO Division of Animal Production based in Armidale. In addition to ongoing leadership of research activities of the Chiswick Laboratory at Armidale, which over that time had up to 30 scientific staff, his wider administrative roles in the Division included research management across several other sites in Australia.
In 1990, the Australian Government established the CRC scheme, designed to support and foster collaboration between research and extension agencies, institutions and industry partners, to facilitate research and the delivery of research outcomes to provide solutions to industry problems. Bernie, in conjunction with others, was instrumental in developing a submission on a CRC for the Beef Industry. While the first application was unsuccessful, a second application in 1992 that had the strong support of the beef production and processing industries was successful. In early 1993, Bernie was appointed as Director of the first CRC for the Cattle and Beef Industry, a $60 million government and industry funded beef research program which he successfully led until 2000.
A new application for a second term of this CRC was again successful, and received federal government support of $20 million, in a total budget of $83 million, for ongoing beef research. As Chief Executive Officer of the second CRC for Cattle and Beef Quality, he continued to make very significant contributions in leadership and management to ensure the success of this CRC. He was also a strong contributor to the submission of a third successful application for the CRC for Beef Genetic Technologies that commenced in mid-2005.
Professional, scientific and industry contributions
In recognition of his contributions to the Australian livestock industries, Bernie was made a Fellow of the Australian Society of Animal Production in 2000 and a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics in 2005. He was a long-standing member of the Australian Society of Reproductive Biology, serving for considerable periods as Secretary and subsequently Chairman and for these services he was recognised as a Fellow of the Society for Reproductive Biology in 2011. In 2000 he was the recipient of the Howard Yelland Award of the Beef Improvement Association of Australia, in recognition of his contributions to research in the beef industry. He was awarded the RaboBank 2005 Red Meat Innovation Award as the Rural Press Beef Achiever of the Year in August 2005.
To download a complete version of this article, prepared by many of Bernie’s former colleagues at the time of his retirement, visit https://www.publish.csiro.au/AN/fulltext/EA05222