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Patrick Cunningham citation

Originally from County Waterford, Patrick Cunningham graduated from UCD in 1956 with first class honours in Agricultural Science. He obtained a Masters in Animal Nutrition from UCD in 1957, and a PhD in Animal Genetics from Cornell University in 1962.

In 1962, he began a research career with An Foras Taluntais (now Teagasc), becoming Department Head in 1970. In 1964, Professor Cunningham began to contribute to the newly-established Department of Genetics in TCD, and in 1974, he was appointed Professor of Animal Genetics.

In 1980 he was appointed Deputy Director of Research at AFT and held that post until 1988. Professor Cunningham’s work in An Foras Taluntais focused mainly on genetic improvement in the Irish cattle population. He pioneered methods of genetic evaluation, introduction and assessment of new breeds and strains, and the economic evaluation of breeding options and strategies.   The theoretical work which accompanied this research attracted considerable international attention.

In 1988, he moved to the World Bank as visiting professor at the Economic Development Institute. From 1990 to 1993, he was Director of Animal Production and Health at the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN in Rome. During this period he directed the Screwworm Eradication Programme for North Africa, the largest international campaign of biological control ever undertaken.  

On his return from the World Bank in 1989, he initiated a new programme of research in TCD.  This was based on the use of newly-developed methods of reading DNA to measure genetic diversity and plan livestock improvement in developing countries.  The first results of this work, emerging in the early 1990s, rewrote the history of animal domestication, demonstrating for the first time the separate domestication of cattle in India on the one hand and in Africa and Europe on the other. His research has focused on quantitative genetic theory, the efficiency of livestock improvement programmes, the genetics of cattle, horses and salmon, and on the use of molecular methods in studies on domestic animal evolution and diversity.    This work placed Irish research at the forefront internationally. He has written two books and over 200 scientific papers; and has twice featured on the cover of Nature.  

Following the BSE crisis in 1996, Professor Cunningham and his colleagues developed a system of DNA traceability for the meat industry, which has been used successfully in Europe for some years. This led to the establishment of a biotechnology company, IdentiGEN, which deploys these technologies in Europe and the USA. Professor Cunningham Chaired IdentiGEN.

In December 2007 The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment appointed Professor Cunningham to the office of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government. This is a key and integral component of the national Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) governance structure put in place by the Government The role of the CSA is to:

  • Provide high level advice on scientific issues of concern to Government across the spectrum of disciplines;
  • Provide scientific input to the development and review of the Government’s recently published Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI 2006-2013);
  • Report, via an Interdepartmental Committee on STI, to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on STI, and to work with the range of implementation and oversight structures being established to advance the Strategy; and
  • To agree a detailed annual work programme with the Cabinet Sub-Committee on STI. 

Recognitions received by Professor Cunningham:

1974           Member of the Royal Irish Academy

1987           Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society

1991           Leroy Fellowship of the European Association for Animal Production

1991           Member of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences,  

1992           Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

1992           Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture & Forestry  

1996           Boyle Medal, Royal Dublin Society  

1997           Honorary Doctorate in Agriculture, Agricultural University of Norway

1997           Honorary Doctorate in Science, University of Dublin

2002           Member of the Irish Council for Bioethics


Elected or appointed positions of Professor Cunningham:

President of: European Association for Animal Production; World Association for Animal Production

Chairman of:  

  • (i) Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research)
  • (ii) Review Group of the EU Agriculture and Food Research Programmes
  • (iii)  Programme Advisory Committee, UK Department of International Development
  • (iv) European Association of Animal Production Working Group on Europe Post BSE
  • (v) RIA Working Group on Higher Education  
  • (vi)  EU Advisory Committee on Future of Biotechnology

He has lectured widely and acted on review teams for universities and research institutes in Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and USA.

Professor Cunningham recently chaired a high-level committee of representatives from science, education and industry which competed successfully to host the European City of Science in Dublin, in 2012. Winning the bid is a major achievement for Ireland, and it means that Dublin will become the showcase for the best in European science and research during 2012.
Patrick Cunningham