Photo of the IGB building during construction.

In the late 1990s, there were numerous biotechnology projects at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from the engineering/physical sciences focus on the north side of campus, to the chemical and biologically oriented central campus, to south campus' research involving animals, crops, and food.

At that time, campus leaders recognized the importance of a central infrastructure to unite research and educational training, to attract major research funding and high-caliber scientists and students. A committee appointed by then-Vice Chancellor for Research Richard C. Alkire conceived of a plan that would unite biotech research under one roof.

In 2000, Governor George Ryan gave his support to what was then called the PostGenomic Institute, and in 2002 funding was released for the project that would eventually become the Institute for Genomic Biology. Governor Rod Blagojevich broke ground on the construction site in June of 2003. The building was completed in November 2006, and dedicated in March 2007.

Harris Lewin, who was appointed director of the IGB in 2003, announced the research themes and the affiliated scientists in 2004. In 2011, Gene Robinson took over as interim director, and officially assumed the role of director in 2012. At the end of 2014, the IGB was officially renamed to the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, in honor of founding member Carl R. Woese, a Microbiology faculty member for nearly 50 years who discovered the third domain of life, Archaea.

Presently, the Institute comprises nearly 140 faculty and affiliates from across campus, exploring pressing problems in agriculture, health, the environment, and energy use and production.