Lincoln Professor first in NZ to receive prestigious Chinese award

11 October 2022 | News

Lincoln University Professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Jon Hickford, has become the first New Zealander to be awarded the prestigious Dunhuang Award from the People’s Republic of China.

The award, similar to a New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) but in recognition of international service, is given by the Gansu Provincial Government to honour foreign experts who have made great contributions to economic and social development in the Gansu Province.

Gansu has been a sister city of Christchurch since 1984 and its connections began with Cantabrian, Rewi Alley, whose support of government-sponsored flood and famine work in China led to him receiving honorary Chinese citizenship in 1982.

Professor Hickford’s research focuses on the genetics of cattle and sheep, with an emphasis on genes that underpin milk, meat and wool production and make livestock resilient to disease and environmental challenges.

His work with the Gansu Province involves facilitating regular exchanges between Lincoln University and Gansu, including travelling to China to teach and supervise postgraduate students at Gansu Agricultural University in Lanzhou.

Chinese staff and students also visit Lincoln, typically staying between six and 18 months, supported by several Chinese Provincial and State Research Grants. Professor Hickford serves as the main supervisor for many of the PhD students and says the visits are research intensive.

"They have led to at least 70 international refereed papers, the awarding of two Lincoln University PhDs and nine Gansu Agricultural University PhDs.

"While the exchanges have been on hold with COVID-19 restrictions, the opening of the borders in New Zealand and China will allow them to rapidly resume. The collaboration has remained strong during this time, as we have written up a huge number of past experiments for publication."

Professor Hickford says the reciprocal arrangement between Lincoln and Gansu began in the early 2000s, with a visit from Professor Yuzhu Luo, of the Gansu Key Laboratory of Herbivorous Animal Biotechnology of the Faculty of Animal Science and Technology.

"Yuzhu, or Abraham as we more commonly know him, has since become a regular visitor to New Zealand, along with his family at times," he says.

The exchange has led to great success for Chinese participants over the years, with one of its first students, Dr Yang Guo, now a Professor in Animal Sciences for the Division of Agriculture and Ecology at the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"Dr Guo came to New Zealand on one of the original PhD scholarships set up to coincide with the signing of the NZ-China Free Trade Agreement by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2008," Professor Hickford says. "We have been awarded other China Scholarship Council scholarships since then."

The news of Professor Hickford’s Dunhuang Award was met with congratulations from the Ambassador of the New Zealand Embassy to China.

"It’s great to hear about your work and the ongoing contribution you’ve made to the Gansu and Christchurch Links," she said.
Image: Professor Jon Hickford (back row, sixth from left) with staff and postgraduate students from Gansu Agricultural University in Lanzhou. To Professor Hickford's left is Dr Huitong Zhou from Lincoln, then Professor Jiang Hu. To his right are Professor Yuzuhu Luo, Professor Jiqing Wang, Dr Xiu Liu and Dr Shaobin Li.