Robinson uses genomics and systems biology to study the mechanisms and evolution of social life. His principal model system is the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, along with other species of bees. 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.
Robinson 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 Institute for Genomic Biology and director of the Bee Research Facility. He served as director of the Neuroscience Program from 2001-2011, leader of the Neural and Behavioral Plasticity Theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology from 2004-2011, and interim director from 2011-2012. He is the author or co-author of over 250 publications, including 26 published in Science or Nature; has been the recipient or co-recipient of over $42M in funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Agriculture and private foundations; pioneered the application of genomics to the study of social behavior, led the effort to gain approval from the National Institutes of Health for sequencing the honey bee genome, and heads the Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Consortium. Robinson serves 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. Dr. Robinson's honors include: University Scholar and member of the Center of 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; Fellow, Animal Behavior Society; Fellow, Entomological Society of America, Fellow, American Academy of Arts & Sciences; and member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
Papers to be discussed