Dr. Hugh M. Robertson, ESA Fellow (2013)

Hugh M. Robertson, Ph.D., a professor of entomology, and of cell and developmental biology, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), was elected as Fellow in 2012.  He is internationally recognized for his research on transposons, chemoreception, and genomes of insects.

Robertson was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 19 December 1955 and grew up in East London where he attended Selbourne College. After a year at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1974, he moved to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he earned his B.Sc. in Zoology and Biochemistry in 1976, and his Ph.D. in Zoology with Hugh E. H. Paterson in 1982.  He moved to the U.S. for a Guyer postdoctoral fellowship in the zoology department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison with Jack P. Hailman, followed by a second postdoctoral in genetics with William R. Engels. In 1987 he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Entomology at UIUC, and promoted to associate and full professor in 1993 and 1999.

Robertson's research began with studies of the mating behavior of damselflies and Drosophila spp. flies, followed by two decades of studies of transposons in insect genomes, starting with postdoctoral work on P elements in Drosophila spp. and ending with studies of horizontal transfer of transposons between animal genomes. Around the turn of the century he redirected his primary research focus and the efforts of his laboratory to the molecular basis of olfaction and gustation in insects, starting with odorant binding proteins and moving on to odorant and gustatory receptors. He also broadened his research to other aspects of insect molecular biology, primarily gleaned from new public insect genome projects, such as circadian rhythms, methylation, and telomeres. He was involved in most public insect and other arthropod genome projects beyond Drosophila spp., playing a central role in the honey bee genome project. His small laboratory is currently involved in sequencing several insect genomes in collaboration with others. He is an author on 108 research papers and 18 other publications.

Robertson has been an invited speaker at meetings around the world, most recently at the 6th International Symposium on Molecular Insect Science in Amsterdam, and the XXIV International Congress of Entomology in Daegu, South Korea, where he received a Certificate of Distinction. His other honors include being named a University and a Romano Professorial Scholar at UIUC, and he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served as an associate editor of Insect Molecular Biology for 8 years. He has advised many undergraduates, ten M.S. and eight Ph.D. students, and three postdoctoral fellows, many of who have gone on to successful careers in biology.

Robertson is married to an artist, Christina J. Nordholm, and has a stepson, Gabriel, and a daughter, Erica. His major hobby is sailing, including windsurfing and kiteboarding.