HI network member Gene Robinson holds a Swanlund Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he also serves as Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and as Director of the Bee Research Facility. 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. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University.
Describe your area of study and how it relates to current policy discussions surrounding inequality.
I study how genes influence social behavior and how the social environment affects genome structure and function, at acute, chronic and evolutionary timescales. My primary model is the honey bee, but the name I've given to this endeavor, sociogenomics, encompasses animal models and humans. This relates to inequality in the sense that how health and socioeconomic disparities "get under the skin" to affect health and well-being involves a variety of signal transduction processes that involve the genome.
What areas in the study of inequality are most in need of new research?
New analytical tools to study gene activity in humans in non-destructive ways.
What advice do you have for emerging scholars in your field?
Develop expertise and perspectives in comparative sociogenomics, linking studies of animal models and humans.