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Gene E Robinson

Profile picture for Gene E Robinson

Contact Information

Department of Entomology
University of Illinois
320 Morrill Hall
505 S. Goodwin Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801

Director of Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Research Description

Insect social behavior and genomics

Gene E. Robinson is the Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. He holds a Swanlund Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he has been since 1989. He also holds affiliate appointments in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, the Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, and the Beckman Institute of Science and Technology. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Ohio State University.

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.

Dr. 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 a Center for Advanced Study Professorship, and since 2001 has served as director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), an interdisciplinary team science institute whose mission is to use genomics to address grand challenges in science and society. Robinson also is co-director of the Bee Research Facility, with former appointments including director of the campus Neuroscience Program and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. 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 350 publications, obtained over $70M in extramural research funding, and has trained over 35 postdoctoral associates and 25 doctoral students, about half with faculty/independent scientist positions in academia, government, and industry. He serves or served on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Council Executive Committee, National Research Council Governing Board and Executive Committee, NIH National Institute of Mental Health Advisory Council, Chan Zuckerberg Chicago Biohub Advisory Committee, provided Congressional testimony, and has past and current appointments on scientific advisory boards for companies and foundations with significant interests in genomics.

Dr. Robinson’s 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. He is a member of NAS, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and American Philosophical Society.



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

Awards and Honors

Member of National Academy of Sciences

Recent Publications

Robinson, G. E., Bliss, R., & Hudson, M. E. (2024). The genomic case against genetic determinism. PLoS biology, 22(2 FEBRUARY), Article e3002510.

Stuart, S. H., Ahmed, A. C. C., Kilikevicius, L., & Robinson, G. E. (2024). Effects of microRNA-305 knockdown on brain gene expression associated with division of labor in honey bee colonies (Apis mellifera). Journal of Experimental Biology, 227(8), Article jeb246785.

Vernier, C. L., Nguyen, L. A., Gernat, T., Ahmed, A. C., Chen, Z., & Robinson, G. E. (2024). Gut microbiota contribute to variations in honey bee foraging intensity. ISME Journal, 18(1), Article wrae030.

Cook, J. L., & Robinson, G. E. (2023). Comparative genomics and the roots of human behavior. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 27(3), 230-232.

Gernat, T., Jagla, T., Jones, B. M., Middendorf, M., & Robinson, G. E. (2023). Automated monitoring of honey bees with barcodes and artificial intelligence reveals two distinct social networks from a single affiliative behavior. Scientific reports, 13(1), Article 1541.

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In the news

  • The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been chosen to lead the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago – a new biomedical hub – along with the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. The three-university team was selected to lead the new biomedical hub as part of a competitive...