Gene E Robinson is the Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. He holds a Swanlund Chair in Entomology and Neuroscience 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, the Neuroscience Program, and the Beckman Institute of Science and Technology. He received his PhD from Cornell University and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Ohio State University. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
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.