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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 Carle R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Research Description

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.


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

Awards and Honors

Member of National Academy of Sciences

Recent Publications

Blaxter, M., Archibald, J. M., Childers, A. K., Coddington, J. A., Crandall, K. A., Di Palma, F., Durbin, R., Edwards, S. V., Graves, J. A. M., Hackett, K. J., Hall, N., Jarvis, E. D., Johnson, R. N., Karlsson, E. K., Kress, W. J., Kuraku, S., Lawniczak, M. K. N., Lindblad-Toh, K., Lopez, J. V., ... Lewin, H. A. (2022). Why sequence all eukaryotes? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(4), [e2115636118].

Lam, F., Chu, J., Choi, J. S., Cao, C., Hitchens, T. K., Silverman, S. K., Liang, Z-P., Dilger, R. N., Robinson, G. E., & Li, K. C. (2022). Epigenetic MRI: Noninvasive imaging of DNA methylation in the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(10), [e2119891119].

Lewin, H. A., Richards, S., Aiden, E. L., Allende, M. L., Archibald, J. M., Bálint, M., Barker, K. B., Baumgartner, B., Belov, K., Bertorelle, G., Blaxter, M. L., Cai, J., Caperello, N. D., Carlson, K., Castilla-Rubio, J. C., Chaw, S. M., Chen, L., Childers, A. K., Coddington, J. A., ... Zhang, G. (2022). The Earth BioGenome Project 2020: Starting the clock. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(4), [e2115635118].

Traniello, I. M., Hamilton, A. R., Gernat, T., Cash-Ahmed, A. C., Harwood, G. P., Ray, A. M., Glavin, A., Torres, J., Goldenfeld, N., & Robinson, G. E. (2022). Context-dependent influence of threat on honey bee social network dynamics and brain gene expression. The Journal of experimental biology, 225(6).

Chen, Z., Traniello, I. M., Rana, S., Cash-Ahmed, A. C., Sankey, A. L., Yang, C., & Robinson, G. E. (2021). Neurodevelopmental and transcriptomic effects of CRISPR/Cas9-induced somatic orco mutation in honey bees. Journal of Neurogenetics, 35(3), 320-332.

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