DAVIS–World-renowned honey bee geneticist Robert Eugene (“Rob”) Page Jr., who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and served as a professor and chair of the UC Davis entomology department before capping his academic career as the Arizona State University provost, is the recipient of the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Award.
He delivered the Leigh seminar on “In Search of the Spirt of the Hive: a 30-Year Quest” on Nov. 29, 2018 at the International House, 10 College Park, Davis.
Page, provost emeritus of Arizona State University (ASU) and Regents Professor since 2015, continues his research, teaching and public service in both Arizona and California and has residences in both states.
Page, who plans to move to the Davis area in December, maintained a honey bee breeding program managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, for 24 years, from 1989 to 2015.
Page focuses his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior. One of his most salient contributions to science was to construct the first genomic map of the honey bee, which sparked a variety of pioneering contributions not only to insect biology but to genetics at large.
Page and his lab pioneered the use of modern techniques to study the genetic bases to the evolution of social behavior in honey bees and other social insects. He was the first to employ molecular markers to study polyandry and patterns of sperm use in honey bees. He provided the first quantitative demonstration of low genetic relatedness in a highly eusocial species.
He continues to work on how reproductive regulatory networks are altered by natural selection for division of labor in honey bees. “It was a controversial proposal when Gro Amdam (his former postdoc at UC Davis) and I first proposed it, but I think it is now an accepted paradigm and has been shown have occurred in different species of social and non-social Hymenoptera.”
An internationally recognized scholar, the honey bee geneticist has published more than 230 research papers and articles, as well as five books, including The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution, published by Harvard University Press in 2013.
Born and reared in Bakersfield, Kern County, Page received his bachelor’s degree in entomology, with a minor in chemistry, from San Jose State University in 1976. After receiving his doctorate from UC Davis, he began his career at The Ohio State University in 1986 and then returned to Davis in 1989 to accept an associate professor position in 1989. He served as department chair from 1999 to 2004, when he was recruited to be the founding director of the School of Life Sciences of ASU. His career advanced to dean of Life Sciences; vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and provost.
He considers his most far-reaching and important accomplishment the success of his mentees, including at least 25 graduate students and postdocs who are now faculty members at leading research institutions around the world. He also built two modern apicultural labs (in Ohio and Arizona), major legacies that are centers of honey bee research and training.
Among his many honors:
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Awardee of the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award (the Humboldt Prize – the highest honor given by the German government to foreign scientists)
- Foreign Member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences
- Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Elected to the Leopoldina – the German National Academy of Sciences (the longest continuing academy in the world)
- Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
- Fellow of the Entomological Society of America
- Awardee of the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Fellowship
- Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences
- Fellow, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, Munich, Germany, September 2017-August 2018
The Leigh seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station, Leigh researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases.
In his memory, his family and associates established the Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar Entomology Fund at the UC Davis Department of Entomology. When his wife, Nina, passed in 2002, the alumni seminar became known as the Thomas and Nina Distinguished Alumni Seminar.