Genomic Pillars of the Social Brain

  • Speaker
  • Gene E. Robinson, Ph.D.Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
    and Swanlund Chair of Entomology , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Date & Time

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Our social brains have given rise to traits that have shaped life on our planet, enabling agriculture, construction, governance, language, manufacture and warfare. These traits are best known in our species but have also evolved repeatedly in a group of insects that includes ants, bees and wasps, with the honey bee widely considered a paragon of sociality.

In this Presidential Lecture, Gene Robinson will use the honey bee to reveal genomic pillars of the social brain that pertain to some of the aforementioned traits. He will present results that demonstrate that different behavioral states are characterized by different patterns of brain gene expression and gene regulatory network topologies; that changes in brain gene expression mediate changes in behavior in concert with changes in neural activity; and that common genetic building blocks are used to support similar types of social capacities in different species, from bees to humans. These findings provide the basis for a new understanding of nature and nurture that emphasizes the action of genes across multiple timescales, from physiological to evolutionary, that applies equally well to humans and bees.

About the Speaker

Robinson obtained his Ph.D. from Cornell University and is a Swanlund Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor at the University of Illinois. Robinson pioneered the application of genomics to the study of social behavior and served on the NIMH Advisory Council. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Wolf Prize in Agriculture and elected membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the American Philosophical Society.

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