Gene E. Robinson

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 61, Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2005)


Gene E. Robinson obtained his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1986 and joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989. He holds a University Swanlund Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professorship, is director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) and director of the Bee Research Facility, and former director of the campus Neuroscience Program. Robinson pioneered the application of genomics to the study of social behavior, led the effort to sequence the honey bee genome, authored or co-authored over 325 publications, and has trained 35 postdoctoral associates and 25 doctoral students. He served on the NIH National Institute of Mental Health Advisory Council, provided Congressional testimony, and has past and current appointments on scientific advisory boards for companies and foundations with significant interests in genomics. His honors include: Fellow and Founders Memorial Award, Entomological Society of America; Fellow and Distinguished Behaviorist, Animal Behavior Society; Distinguished Scientist Award, International Behavioral Genetics Society; Guggenheim Fellowship; Fulbright Fellowship; NIH Pioneer Award; Honorary Doctorate, Hebrew University; and the Wolf Prize in Agriculture. Robinson is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and the American Philosophical Society.

Research Interests

Dr. Robinson's research group uses genomics and systems biology to study the mechanisms and evolution of social life, using the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, as the principal model system along with other species of bees. The research is integrative, involving perspectives from evolutionary biology, behavior, neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics. The goal is to explain the function and evolution of behavioral mechanisms that integrate the activity of individuals in a society, neural and neuroendocrine mechanisms that regulate behavior within the brain of the individual, and the genes that influence social behavior. Research focuses on division of labor, aggression, and the famous dance language, a system of symbolic communication. Current projects include: 1) nutritional regulation of brain gene expression and division of labor; 2) gene regulatory network analysis in solitary and social species to determine how brain reward systems change during social evolution; 3) brain metabolic plasticity and aggression; 4) automated monitoring of bee behavior with RFID tags and barcodes; and 5) learning and memory in relation to division of labor. In social evolution, the sophistication of neural and behavioral mechanisms for the essentials of life--food, shelter, and reproduction--stems from increased abilities to communicate and synchronize behavior with conspecifics. Social insects, especially honey bees, are thus exemplars for the discovery of general principles of brain function, behavior, and social organization.

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