Professor of Animal Genetics,Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland

Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Irish Government

Professor Cunningham is a geneticist and international public servant who was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Irish government from 2007 - 2012. He has held a personal chair of animal genetics at Trinity College since 1974 and various posts in the Irish National Agricultural Institute, where he was deputy Director (Research) from 1980 - 1988. In 1988 he moved to the World Bank as professor in the Economic Development Institute, and in 1990 he was appointed Director of Animal Production and Health at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome (1990 - 1993). During this period he was also Director of SECNA (Screwworm Eradication Campaign for North Africa). He was elected President of the European (1980 - 1984) and World (1984 - 1988) Associations of Animal Production. His research has focused on quantitative genetic theory, the efficiency of livestock improvement programmes, the genetics of cattle, horses and salmon, and the use of molecular methods in studies on domestic animal evolution. This included the use of new methods of reading DNA to measure genetic diversity and plan livestock improvement in developing countries. This work demonstrated for the first time the separate domestication of cattle in India on the one hand and in Africa and Europe on the other. He has published over 100 scientific papers, which have twice featured on the cover of Nature. Following the BSE crisis in 1996, he led a team that developed a system of DNA traceability for the meat industry, which is now used successfully by their company IdentiGEN in Europe and North America. He has been elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (1974) and several international academies of science. In 1996 he received the Royal Dublin Society's prestigious Boyle Medal, and he holds honorary doctorates from TCD, UCD and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. In 2014 he was appointed chairman of the international panel to review the direct actions of the JRC under FP7(2007-2013). Professor Cunningham graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) with degrees in agricultural science and animal nutrition, before completing his doctorate in animal genetics at Cornell University, USA.


10:15-12:45 7 NOVEMBER

Science seeks to establish verified and reliable knowledge and understanding of our world.  This knowledge should underpin policy. And policy should serve the wider goals of society: security, equity, resilience, at the level of the individual, the group, the nation, the future. Managing the linkages is very complex – and I speak from two recent involvements.

First, as CSA to the Irish government 2007-2012. These years matched the financial boom and bust. They followed a decade of expanding investment in higher education and in R+D, and growing sophistication of our economic base. While public investment in science has now stalled at 1.3% of the national budget, the gathering recovery is underpinned by the scientific sophistication of much of our economic structure.

Second, as chair of a group of 12 colleagues charged with the task of reviewing the last 7 years of the performance of the JRC – the in-house research organisation of the EU. The JRC is unique in its mission, and in its close linkage to the evolving policies of the EU.  Originally set up 50 years ago to knit the nuclear research of the six founding nations together, it now serves the full spectrum of EU policy needs. Our report concludes positively on the quality of the science, and on the effectiveness of the service to policy development and support. Dr Sucha will no doubt have more to say on this, but our conclusion was that the JRC has provided much of the secure scientific knowledge that underpins Europe’s evolving policies.