Partnership between UT Institute of Agriculture and National University of Ireland Galway addresses Common Concerns Plaguing both Countries

August 26, 2019

Hannah Dominguez McLaughlin prepares molecular markers to investigate the genetic diversity of the American gray squirrel. Hannah, an undergraduate student at the National University of Ireland Galway, studied at UTIA this summer to research gray squirrels
In December 2018, a group of professors and administrators at the UT Institute of Agriculture visited Ireland and Northern Ireland to meet with university and governmental representatives regarding potential collaborations to address issues of mutual interest. Through these meetings, Professor Bob Trigiano with the UT Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology and Professor Colin Lawton with the Ryan Institute, School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland Galway had fruitful discussions about the American gray squirrel – a native to the United States but an invasive species in Ireland that is threatening the native red squirrel.

Professors Trigiano and Lawton developed a partnership that allowed Hannah Dominquez McLaughlin, a senior honors undergraduate student at NUI Galway, to study at the UT Institute of Agriculture during Summer 2019 and work on the genetic diversity and population structure of gray squirrels in Ireland. She gathered data from DNA collected from almost 100 specimens of dead squirrels from Ireland, and will work closely with Professor Trigiano’s research lab on data analyses, which they hope will soon be published in an academic journal. Hannah also had the opportunity to work with a plant pathogen of an endangered sunflower species native to Tennessee where she helped to isolate and identify a fungus that causes a leaf spot. She will be part of the publication process of this work as well.

Studies such as Hannah’s research on the gray squirrel and fungus affecting sunflowers have direct benefits for Tennessee and the United States. Her experiments to discover the genetic diversity of introduced squirrels in Ireland are directly applicable to destructive and invasive species introduced to Tennessee. For example, dogwood anthracnose and powdery mildew were introduced from Asia on imported dogwoods, and thousand canker disease, caused by a fungal pathogen vectored by an insect, was introduced from the western United States and is devastating to black walnut trees. Hannah used methodology and analytical tools to assess genetic diversity and population structure that can be applied to studies of other invasive species occurring in the United States and Ireland.

Hannah’s experience is one example of the developing strategic partnership between these two universities. This summer, graduate student David Farrell came from NUI Galway to UTIA to work on an organic dairy project with Associate Professor Gina Pighetti in the Department of Animal Science. Olivia Yates, a UT senior majoring in Biosystems Engineering, spent a month at NUI Galway completing the summer school ecology program Living Landscapes in the West of Ireland. The UT Institute of Agriculture and NUI Galway hope these exchanges will lead to solutions to issues affecting both the United States and Ireland. Dr. Tom Gill, Smith Chair for International Sustainable Agriculture at UTIA, says, “Collaborations such as these are critical first steps in building larger, long-lasting institutional global partnerships. We are excited to see our links with NUI Galway grow and look forward to further work between our institutions.”


The UT Herbert College of Agriculture provided funding to support Dr. Trigiano’s trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Further Information:

UTIA Smith International Center -


R.N. Trigiano,, 865-386-1872

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