Gene E. Robinson

CAS Professor of Entomology

Robinson image
Courtesy Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Professor Robinson pioneered the application of genomics to the study of social behavior and has significantly advanced the understanding of the role of genes, hormones, and neurochemicals in the evolution of social behavior. He has made a wide range of fundamental advances in elucidating the endocrine, neural, and genetic regulation of behavior at the individual and colony levels in honey bees, led the effort to gain approval from the National Institutes of Health for sequencing the honey bee genome and founded the Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Consortium.

Professor Robinson’s laboratory is currently using genomic and molecular systems biology approaches to understand how genes influence social behavior and how the social environment influences brain and behavior via effects on the genome. Current themes include: how changes in brain metabolism affects behavior; the genetics and genomics of aggression; understanding how the rewiring of brain gene networks contributes to behavioral plasticity; and searching for and elucidating genetic “toolkits” for social behavior—conserved building blocks that are used repeatedly in evolution to fashion social responsiveness in distantly related species, including perhaps humans.

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 is also the director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) and director of the Bee Research Facility; for 2020-2021 he served as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He served as interim director of the IGB from 2011-2012, director of the Neuroscience Program from 2001-2011, and leader of the Neural and Behavioral Plasticity Theme at the IGB from 2004-2011. He is the author or co-author of over 350 publications, including 28 published in Science or Nature, and has been the recipient or co-recipient of over $68M in funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Agriculture, DARPA and private foundations. Robinson served on the National Institute of Mental Health Advisory Council and has past and current appointments on scientific advisory boards for companies with significant interests in genomics.

Robinson has trained over 35 postdoctoral associates and 25 doctoral students, and supervised over 140 undergraduates. Dr. Robinson’s honors include: University Scholar and member of the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois; Burroughs Wellcome Innovation Award in Functional Genomics; Founders Memorial Award from the Entomological Society of America; Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship; Guggenheim Fellowship; NIH Pioneer Award; Honorary Doctorate from Hebrew University; Fellow, Animal Behavior Society; Fellow, Entomological Society of America, Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences; Member, US National Academy of Sciences; Member, US National Academy of Medicine; Winner, 2018 Wolf Prize in Agriculture; and Fellow, American Philosophical Society.

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