Gene E Robinson

449 Morrill Hall
Office: (217) 265-0309
Lab: (217) 333-6843
Fax: (217) 244-3499

Mail to: Department of Entomology
University of Illinois
320 Morrill Hall
505 S. Goodwin Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Lab Page
Curriculum Vita
Video Interview

Gene E Robinson

Swanlund Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor
Professor of Integrative Biology
Professor of Entomology
Affiliate, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
Member, National Academy of Sciences

Research Topics



B.A., Cornell University
Ph.D., Cornell University (Entomology)

From society to genes

My research group uses the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, to understand the mechanisms governing social behavior. Behavioral development occurs in many animals, including humans. As animals age and pass through different life stages, their genetically determined behavioral responses to environmantal and and social stimuli change in predictable ways. Often these responses imcrease in complexity and involve learning. Our research is designed 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. Our work is devoted to showing that honey bees can be exemplars for the discovery of general principles of brain function and behavior. We have started to tap the power of genomics to help elucidate these mysteries, initiating an approach that we call "sociogenomics."

During just a 4-7 week adult lifespan, worker honey bees display a rich, vertebrate-like pattern of behavioral development, which underlies age-related division of labor in the bee colony. Bees undergo a series of transitions that culminates with foraging, a complex task that requires learning how to navigate in the environment and handle flowers. Behavioral development in the bee is a powerful system for integrated analysis; although it occurs naturally in the field some underlying mechanisms are also readily analyzable in the laboratory. Moreover, owing to the bee's special status as a producer of honey and the premier animal pollinator, it has been closely associated with human beings for millenia. As a result, we know more about honey bees than just about any other animal on earth. One consequence of this wealth of knowledge is that the natural social life of the honey bee, though as complex as in any vertebrate society, can be extensively manipulated with unparalleled precision.

Representative Publications

C. G. Elsik, K. C. Worley, A. K. Bennett, M. Beye, F. Camara, C. P. Childers, D. C. de Graaf, G. Debyser, J. Deng, B. Devreese, E. Elhaik, J. D. Evans, L. J. Foster, D. Graur, R. Guigo, K. J. Hoff, M. E. Holder, M. E. Hudson, G. J. Hunt, H. Jiang, V. Joshi, R. S. Khetani, P. Kosarev, C. L. Kovar, J. Ma, R. Maleszka, R. F. A. Moritz, M. C. Munoz-Torres, T. D. Murphy, D. M. Muzny, I. F. Newsham, J. T. Reese, H. M. Robertson, G. E. Robinson, O. Rueppell, V. Solovyev, M. Stanke, E. Stolle, J. M. Tsuruda, M. Van Vaerenbergh, R. M. Waterhouse, D. B. Weaver, C. W. Whitfield, Y. Wu, E. M. Zdobnov, L. Zhang, D. Zhu, R. A. Gibbs, HGSC Prod Teams and Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Consor, "Finding the missing honey bee genes: lessons learned from a genome upgrade," BMC Genomics, vol. 15, pp. 86, JAN 30, 2014.

C. C. Rittschof and G. E. Robinson, "Genomics: Moving behavioural ecology beyond the phenotypic gambit," Anim. Behav., vol. 92, pp. 263-270, 2014.

S. H. Woodard, G. M. Bloch, M. R. Band and G. E. Robinson, "Molecular heterochrony and the evolution of sociality in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris)," Proc. Biol. Sci., vol. 281, pp. 20132419, Feb 19, 2014.

P. Cingolani, X. Cao, R. S. Khetani, C. -. Chen, M. Coon, A. Sammak, A. Bollig-Fischer, S. Land, Y. Huang, M. E. Hudson, M. D. Garfinkel, S. Zhong, G. E. Robinson and D. M. Ruden, "Intronic Non-CG DNA hydroxymethylation and alternative mRNA splicing in honey bees," BMC Genomics, vol. 14, pp. 666, SEP 30, 2013.

D. Kültz, D. F. Clayton, G. E. Robinson, C. Albertson, H. V. Carey, M. E. Cummings, K. Dewar, S. V. Edwards, H. A. Hofmann, L. J. Gross, J. G. Kingsolver, M. J. Meaney, B. A. Schlinger, A. W. Shingleton, M. B. Sokolowski, G. N. Somero, D. C. Stanzione and A. E. Todgham, "New frontiers for organismal biology," Bioscience, vol. 63, pp. 464-471, 2013.

H. Li-Byarlay, Y. Li, H. Stroud, S. Feng, T. C. Newman, M. Kaneda, K. K. Hou, K. C. Worley, C. G. Elsik, S. A. Wickline, S. E. Jacobsen, J. Ma and G. E. Robinson, "RNA interference knockdown of DNA methyltransferase 3 affects gene alternative splicing in the honey bee," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 110, pp. 12750-12755, 2013. C. C. Lutz and G. E. Robinson, "Activity-dependent gene expression in honey bee mushroom bodies in response to orientation flight," J. Exp. Biol., vol. 216, pp. 2031-2038, 2013.

C. C. Rittschof and G. E. Robinson, "Manipulation of colony environment modulates honey bee aggression and brain gene expression," Genes Brain Behav., 2013.

M. M. Wheeler, S. A. Ament, S. L. Rodriguez-Zas and G. E. Robinson, "Brain gene expression changes elicited by peripheral vitellogenin knockdown in the honey bee," Insect Mol. Biol., 2013.

S. H. Woodard, G. Bloch, M. R. Band and G. E. Robinson, "Social regulation of maternal traits in nest-founding bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) queens," J. Exp. Biol., vol. 216, pp. 3474-3482, 2013. S. A. Ament, C. A. Blatti, C. Alaux, M. M. Wheeler, A. L. Toth, Y. Le Conte, G. J. Hunt, E. Guzmán-Novoa, G. DeGrandi-Hoffman, J. L. Uribe-Rubio, G. V. Amdam, R. E. Page Jr., S. L. Rodriguez-Zas, G. E. Robinson and S. Sinha, "New meta-analysis tools reveal common transcriptional regulatory basis for multiple determinants of behavior," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 109, pp. E1801-E1810, 2012. S. A. Ament, Y. Wang, C. -. Chen, C. A. Blatti, F. Hong, Z. S. Liang, N. Negre, K. P. White, S. L. Rodriguez-Zas, C. A. Mizzen, S. Sinha, S. Zhong and G. E. Robinson, "The Transcription Factor Ultraspiracle Influences Honey Bee Social Behavior and Behavior-Related Gene Expression," Plos Genetics, vol. 8, pp. e1002596, MAR, 2012.

W. T. Boyce, M. B. Sokolowski and G. E. Robinson, "Toward a new biology of social adversity," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 109, pp. 17143-17148, OCT 16, 2012. S. Foret, R. Kucharski, M. Pellegrini, S. Feng, S. E. Jacobsen, G. E. Robinson and R. Maleszka, "DNA methylation dynamics, metabolic fluxes, gene splicing, and alternative phenotypes in honey bees," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 109, pp. 4968-4973, 2012.

Z. S. Liang, T. Nguyen, H. R. Mattila, S. Rodriguez-Zas, T. D. Seeley and G. E. Robinson, "Molecular determinants of scouting behavior in honey bees," Science, vol. 335, pp. 1225-1228, 2012.

C. C. Lutz, S. Rodriguez-Zas, S. E. Fahrbach and G. E. Robinson, "Transcriptional response to foraging experience in the honey bee mushroom bodies," Developmental Neurobiology, vol. 72, pp. 153-166, 2012. S. Rodriguez-Zas, B. R. Southey, Y. Shemesh, E. B. Rubin, M. Cohen, G. E. Robinson and G. Bloch, "Microarray analysis of natural socially regulated plasticity in circadian rhythms of honey bees," J. Biol. Rhythms, vol. 27, pp. 12-24, 2012. A. Zayed, N. L. Naeger, S. Rodriguez-Zas and G. E. Robinson, "Common and novel transcriptional routes to behavioral maturation in worker and male honey bees," Genes, Brain and Behavior, vol. 11, pp. 253-261, 2012. A. Zayed and G. E. Robinson, "Understanding the relationship between brain gene expression and social behavior: Lessons from the honey bee," Annu. Rev. Genet., vol. 46, pp. 591-615, 2012.

S. A. Ament, Q. W. Chan, M. M. Wheeler, S. E. Nixon, S. P. Johnson, S. Rodriguez-Zas, L. J. Foster and G. E. Robinson, "Mechanisms of stable lipid loss in a social insect," J. Exp. Biol., vol. 214, pp. 3808-3821, 2011.

S. A. Ament, R. A. Velarde, M. H. Kolodkin, D. Moyse and G. E. Robinson, "Neuropeptide Y-like signalling and nutritionally mediated gene expression and behaviour in the honey bee," Insect Mol. Biol., vol. 20, pp. 335-345, 2011. A. M. Bell and G. E. Robinson, "Behavior and the dynamic genome," Science, vol. 332, pp. 1161-1162, 2011.

Robinson, G.E., Fernald, R.F., and D.F. Clayton. 2008. Genes and social behavior. Science 322: 896-900.

Toth, A.L., Varala, K., Newman, T.C., Miguez, F.E., Hitchison, S.K., Willoughby, D.A., Simons, J.F., Egholm, M., Hunt, J.H., Hudson, M.E. & G.E. Robinson. 2007. Wasp brain gene expression supports an evolutionary link between maternal behavior and eusociality. Science 318: 441-444.

Wang, Y., Maleszka, R., Mizzen, C.A, Robertson, H.M., Jones, P.L., Peinado, M.A. and G.E. Robinson. 2006. Functional methylation system in a social insect. Science 314: 645-7.

Hummon, A.B., Richmond, T.A., Verleyen, P., Baggerman, G., Huybrechts, J., Ewing, M.A.,Vierstraete, E., Rodriguez-Zas, S.L., Schoofs, L., Robinson, G.E. and J.V. Sweedler. 2006. From the genome to the proteome: uncovering peptides in the Apis brain. Science 314: 647-9.

Honey Bee Sequencing Consortium. 2006. Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera. Nature 443: 931-949. (co-leader)

Robinson, G.E., Grozinger, C.M. and C.W. Whitfield. 2005. Sociogenomics: Social life in molecular terms. Nature Reviews Genetics 6: 257-70.

Robinson, G.E. 2004. Genomics. Beyond nature and nurture. Science, 304:397–9. [Abstract]

Whitfield, C.W., Cziko, A.-M., and Robinson, G.E. 2003. Gene expression patterns in the brain predict behavior in individual honey bees. Science, 302:296–9. [Abstract]

Grozinger, C.M., Sharabash, N., Whitfield, C.W., and Robinson, G.E. 2003. Pheromone-mediated gene expression in the honey bee brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(Suppl. 2):14519–25. [Abstract]

Whitfield, C.W., Band, M., Bonaldo, M.F., Kumar, C.G., Liu, L., Pardinas, J.R., Robertson, H.M., Soares, M.B., and Robinson, G.E. 2002. Annotated expressed sequence tags and cDNA microarrays for studies of brain and behavior in the honey bee. Genome Research 12:555–66. [Abstract]

Ben-Shahar, Y., Robichon, A., Sokolowski, M.B., and Robinson, G.E. 2002. Influence of gene action across different time scales on behavior. Science, 296:741–4. [Abstract]

Robinson, G.E. 2002. Sociogenomics takes flight. Science, 297:204–5. [Abstract]

Complete Publications List