IGB Director

Gene Robinson

Gene E. Robinson, Director

A beehive is breathtakingly beautiful in both its simplicity and its complexity. A successful hive requires all parts to be working in harmony—roles are clearly defined. As an entomologist, I’ve been studying bee society for more than 30 years, so perhaps it’s not unusual for me to draw parallels between the hive and the busy, bustling labs that comprise the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. I am truly struck by the similarities—we are nearly 1000 people, faculty, staff, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, all working toward a common goal to pioneer advances in the life sciences.

As one of the Institute’s original theme leaders, I have been a part of the IGB since the beginning, and it is now an honor for me to lead an institution of this caliber. The state of Illinois invested $75 million in 2003 to fund the construction and start up of the IGB—in under a decade, those costs have already been more than recouped with external grants and contracts. Our scientific productivity and intellectual property output is getting stronger and stronger: In FY2013 we published 276 papers, including 4 in Science and Nature, made seven disclosures, eight U.S. patent applications and had three patents issued. We also saw the launch of the first startup company based on IGB research. IGB researchers have developed:

  • A new antibiotic to combat food-borne diseases
  • A new yeast strain that will improve biofuels production
  • A technique to isolate tumor-seeding cancer cells
  • A genome map of the energy crop Miscanthus sinensis

The progress and promise of the IGB is especially apparent in the early career successes of our younger investigators, who are bringing fresh perspectives to bear on important problems and motivating themselves and their peers to even greater achievements. These men and women have already established themselves as valuable scientific contributors, and they are poised for even greater success in the years ahead. Their participation in our thematic research groups, (“Themes”), helps drive the creative spark to push further into the undiscovered.

A dynamic institute such as ours must balance the need for continuity and consistency in the research that we are pursuing, with a forward-looking stance that embraces new opportunities whenever we can. In conjunction with our faculty and staff, we continue to evaluate our Themes, identify new areas to explore, undertake outreach and educational opportunities, and develop new ideas to generate economic development through our discoveries. I am passionately committed to the founding mission of the IGB, to advance life sciences research and stimulate bioeconomic development in the state of Illinois.

Our strategic approach to the future is critical to our continued success. Realizing the full potential of the genomic revolution requires integrating approaches and results from different sub-disciplines of biology with technologies, concepts, approaches, and information from disciplines such as engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and the geological, atmospheric and social sciences. The treasure trove of “big data” generated by genomic research brings its own unique challenges in data management, necessitating an increase in computation prowess. Given that IGB researchers come from more than 30 different departments and 8 colleges across campus, and that we contribute to leading partnerships such as the Energy Biosciences Institute, the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory, and the CompGen Initiative, the institute is clearly equipped to lead that charge.

Our research is creative, collaborative and innovative. We focus on the significant problems facing humanity, such as treating chronic human diseases, managing new and emerging pests and pathogens, and maintaining an abundant and healthy food supply. We also address fundamental questions in science, such as the origin of life, or how the brain works. Genomic biology will continue to help solve some of these grand challenges in biology, medicine, agriculture and the environment. The integrative, interdisciplinary and collegial approach of the IGB has made remarkable and pathbreaking advances. I hope you will join us as we continue on our journey.

Gene E. Robinson


IGB External Advisory Board

The IGB is constantly evolving, and every two years the institute and the research themes are reviewed by the External Advisory Board. Members of this board are selected from a broad range of disciplines and embody leadership within their field.




















Roger Beachy

World Food Center

Roger Beachy helped develop one of the first genetically modified food crops, a virus-resistant tomato. He has worked for the Scripps Research Institute and later served as the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. In 2009, President Obama appointed Beachy as the first Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, during which time he was also the USDA’s Chief Scientist. In 2013, he served as Executive Director of the Global Institute for Food Security before joining the World Food Center at the University of California, Davis, as Director. He is concurrently a Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1997, Beachy was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


Andrew Clark

Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Population Genetics
Cornell University

Andrew Clark studies adaptive variations that allow individuals to survive in changing environments through the quantitative modeling of phenotypes. He is a Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Population Genetics and a Nancy and Peter Meinig Family Investigator in the Life Sciences at Cornell University. In addition, Clark is the Associate Director of the Cornell Center for Comparative and Population Genomics. In 2012, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


James Collins

Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science
Professor of Biological Engineering

James Collins helped found the field of synthetic biology. He is also a pioneering researcher in systems biology, having made fundamental discoveries regarding the actions of antibiotics and the emergence of antibiotic resistance. Currently, he is the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and a Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Collins is a Rhodes Scholar, MacArthur Fellow, and recipient of the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.


James Eberwine

Elmer Holmes Bobst Professor of Pharmacology
University of Pennsylvania

James Eberwine works to understand the molecular basis of neuronal functioning as the Elmer Holmes Bobst Professor of Pharmacology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the Co-director of the PENN Genome Frontiers Institute that is dedicated to interdisciplinary genomics research. He has received a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a Pioneer Award from the NIH Director's office.


Richard Foster

Venture Partner
Lux Capital

Richard Foster is a Venture Partner with Lux Capital and serves in the Executive-in-Residence role at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, as well as emeritus director of McKinsey & Company. While at McKinsey, he co-founded the firm’s practices in technology and innovation, healthcare, and private equity. His research interests are in the relationships between capital formation, innovation, and regulation. Foster is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Peter Fox

Developer and Manager
Fox Development Corporation

Peter Fox founded Fox Development Corporation, a real estate development firm in Champaign. Today he serves as the Developer and Manager of Research Park at the University of Illinois, which is home to more than 90 companies. Previously, he served as the Senior Managing Director of Bear, Stearns & Companies, Inc., a global investment banking, securities trading and brokerage firm.


Robert Fraley

Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer

Robert Fraley oversees Monsanto’s integrated crop and seed agribusiness technology and research as the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. He began his career as a Senior Research Specialist in Monsanto’s Biological Sciences Program, later becoming President of Monsanto's former Ceregen business unit and Co-president of Monsanto’s Agricultural Sector. Fraley is a recipient of the World Food Prize.


Conrad Gilliam

Dean for Research and Graduate Education
University of Chicago

Conrad Gilliam is the Marjorie I. and Bernard A. Mitchell Professor in the Department of Human Genetics, as well as the Dean for Research and Graduate Education in the Biological Sciences Division at the University of Chicago. He came to the university in 2004 as Chair of Human Genetics. His research focuses on identifying and characterizing heritable mutations affecting the nervous system, from genetic mapping of rare disease mutations to the study of common heritable disorders.


Larry Gold

University of Colorado Boulder

Larry Gold is a Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is also the Founder, Chairman and CEO of SomaLogic, a protein biomarker discovery and clinical diagnostics company. In addition, he founded NeXagen, Inc., which became NeXstar Pharmaceuticals and later merged with Gilead Sciences, Inc., a research-based biopharmaceutical company. In 1995, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


Edison Liu

President and CEO
The Jackson Laboratory

Edison Liu is the President and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory, an independent, nonprofit research institution that studies how to prevent, treat and cure human disease through genetics. As the founding Executive Director of the Genome Institute of Singapore, he expanded the Institute’s staff from three to 270 in less than 10 years. Today he is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University as well as an Adjunct Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Illinois.


Elaine Mardis

Director of Technology Development
McDonnell Genome Institute, Washington University

Elaine Mardis investigates next generation and third generation sequencing technologies and how to employ them in production sequencing. She serves as the Director of Technology Development at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University. Mardis is also Professor in the Department of Genetics, with an adjunct appointment in the Department of Molecular Microbiology. In 2010, she received the Scripps Translational Research Award for work on cancer genomics.


Susan Marqusee

Eveland Warren Endowed Chair
University of California Berkeley

Susan Marqusee is an expert in protein folding. Her research seeks to understand the structural and dynamic information encoded in the linear amino acid sequence of proteins, which contain the blueprints for protein structure. Marqusee is the Eveland Warren Endowed Chair Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California Berkeley and Director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, or QB3. She is also a recipient of the William C. Rose Award of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In 2016 Marqusee was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


Kathie Olsen

Founder and Managing Director
ScienceWorks LLC

Kathie Olsen is a former Deputy Director and COO at the National Science Foundation. Olsen has been awarded NASA’s Outstanding Leadership medal, the NSF Director’s Award of Excellence, and many others. Today she is the Founder and Managing Director of ScienceWorks, a consulting firm that helps organizations and companies create successful science programs and projects. In 2003, Olsen was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Barbara Schaal

Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Washington University in St. Louis


Barbara Schaal was among the first plant scientists to use molecular biology-based approaches to understand evolutionary processes in plants, and has worked to advance understanding of plant molecular systematics and population genetics. Her recent work includes collaborative research into the evolutionary genetics of plants to enrich food crops such as cassava and rice. She was appointed to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2009 and in 2012, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999. She is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.


Gregory Stephanopoulos

Willard Henry Dow Professor in Chemical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gregory Stephanopoulos leads research in biofuels and the production of chemicals and materials from renewable resources, to advance the concept of a biobased economy, as well as the analysis of metabolic networks to better understand human disease, including cancer. He is the Willard Henry Dow Professor in Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and leads the Bioinformatics & Metabolic Engineering Laboratory at MIT. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the 2015 elected President of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.


Jun Wang


Jun Wang leads efforts in developing an artificial intelligence health-monitoring system to identify relationships between individual human genomic data, physiological traits and lifestyle choices to predict and prevent disease. He is Partner and Director of the Board of BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute. He is also an Ole Rømer Professor at the University of Copenhagen. He has received many awards, including the Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Award from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


Susan Wessler

President’s Chair Distinguished Professor of Genetics
University of California, Riverside

Susan Wessler is a molecular geneticist known for her contributions to the field of transposon biology, specifically on the roles of plant transposable elements in gene and genome evolution. Wessler is the President’s Chair and Distinguished Professor of Genetics at the University of California, Riverside. In 2011, she was elected Home Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, the first women to hold this position in the 150-year history of the National Academy. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


James Weyhenmeyer

Vice President for Research and Economic Development
Georgia State University

James Weyhenmeyer was a Professor of Cell Biology, Neuroscience and Pathology at the University of Illinois before joining Georgia State University as the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, where he manages the university’s research portfolio and economic development activities, and a Professor of Neuroscience and Biology. He is a member of several honorary societies, including the Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences.