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Illinois IGB

Gene Robinson and May Berenbaum on Reddit's Ask Me Anything

February 9, 2017

Gene Robinson and May Berenbaum featured on Reddit's Ask Me Anything

IGB Director and Swanlund Chair in Entomology Gene Robinson, with Swanlund Chair and Head of Entomology May Berenbaum, were featured on Reddit's Ask Me Anything (AMA) on February 14. The popular series has included celebrities, scientists, authors, artists, U.S. presidents and more, and allows individuals to post questions online to be answered by the host. This was the first AMA with an IGB members as the hosts.

Although question can no longer be submitted, the AMA will remain at More information can be found in the original notice below.

Gene and May
IGB Director Gene Robinson and Swanlund Chair and Head of Entomology May Berenbaum collaborate during the IGB's first ever AMA on Reddit.

Science AMA Series: We are Dr. May Berenbaum and Dr. Gene Robinson, University of Illinois entomologists. We study the genomics of honey bee biology, and we’re here for some sweet science discussion for Valentine’s Day! AUA!

We are two scientists who are fascinated by honey bees: their complex social lives, their collective ability to adapt to environmental challenges, their sophisticated cognitive abilities, and the vital role they play in agriculture and food production. We also share a common experimental approach: exploring the behaviors, life history, evolution, and health of honey bees and other insects by studying their genomes.

Genomes have led to a definitive answer to the historic nature vs. nurture debate: effects of nature (inherited genetic material) and nurture (effects of the environment) interact with each other at the level of the genome to shape the biology of all living things.  By sequencing the honey bee genome ( and studying its activity, we learn more about how honey bees develop, behave, learn, and adapt; by sequencing the genomes of related species (…), we’ve identified new hypotheses for how social living evolved in bees. In Dr. Robinson’s lab, we have discovered how the responsiveness of the genome in honey bee brain cells relates to the ability of bees to adjust their behavior to their physical and social environment, and therefore contribute to the colony’s ability to be robust to challenges (…).  We’ve also demonstrated how stress in early life, by acting through the genome, has a long-term impact on behavior (  

The genome has also helped us learn the many roles that honey, the food that bees make from the nectar they collect from flowers, plays in the complex lives of the honey bee. In Dr. Berenbaum’s lab, we’ve overturned the idea that honey is just a carbohydrate source. We’ve shown that constituents of honey that come from nectar and pollen increase the activity of genes in the genome that code for proteins that protect the bees from a variety of threats. Some enzymes break down environmental toxins such as pesticides and some are involved in defense against bacterial pathogens ( We’ve also discovered that chemicals in honey and pollen, when fed to an immature bee, can influence whether she grows up to be a queen or a worker ( Using tools made possible by genome sequencing, we’ve investigated potential contributions of different factors to Colony Collapse Disorder ( and developed molecular models to predict which pesticides are likely to be toxic to bees.

You can learn more about Dr. Robinson here:…

And more about Dr. Berenbaum here:

February 9, 2017
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