Anestacia Robinson, BHC Scholar and biology major, completed an Honors Undergraduate Thesis on the genetic effects of multiple chromosomes across wild sunflowers. Her research could hold implications for engineering more resilient and sustainable crops. While at UCF, she was a part of UCF’s Botanical Society and Pre-Professional Medical Society, and was heavily involved in research at the Mason Lab. Anestacia hopes to one day teach at her own university lab, inspiring other students to achieve their goals and reach for the stars.

What were you trying to discover with your research? Why were you interested in this topic?

Understanding how whole-genome duplication (or polyploidy) results in changes to both the genome and plant traits is critical to understanding how natural selection shapes plant evolution and provides opportunities for improvement of crops. I am trying to discover the difference between diploids and polyploids among the genus Helianthus and the effects on the secondary metabolites using wild sunflowers. It is hypothesized that the more gene copies present, the bigger the organism overall.

Sunflowers are a major crop and the seeds are rich in oil. [They are a significant part of the economy] - in 2016, around $405.6 million. It would be extremely exciting if results from this research would impact this market positively, whether it be in the nutrient of the oil or a hardier sunflower. Understanding the impacts of whole genome duplication on plant physiology not only improves our understanding of the natural world, but also may allow for the targeted breeding of more resilient and sustainable crops [that produce more oil].

What leadership positions, research experiences, internship experiences, and study abroad experiences did you have while at UCF? What did you learn from them - how do you think they helped you get where you are today?

I was UCF’s Botanical Society treasurer for one term; it was a great experience to be in a plant-focused group. I was also UCF’s Pre-Professional Medical Society vice president for a year; I learned how to organize functions and plan special events for fundraising. [In addition,] I took part in undergraduate research with the Mason Lab at UCF for three years; it was an amazing experience! The most rewarding part was that I gained a mentor! Being a part of the Mason Lab gave me many skills, from making dilutions to [setting] up a whole greenhouse grow-up project.

What are your long-term goals/future plans? What are you doing after graduation? How did the BHC help you achieve these goals? 

I am applying to graduate programs, so hopefully I will be starting a program in August 2021. I’m most interested in programs like cellular biology or molecular and cellular biology. The Burnett Honors College helped me achieve these goals by giving me the resources to better myself, as well providing a supportive community. They held social events and the staff members were always there to help.

In the next ten years, hopefully I will have my own lab at a university. I want to teach and inspire students to reach for their dreams, or even help them see [that] what they think is impossible is obtainable, like my mentor did for me.

What advice do you have for other students who may want to follow a similar path?

If this what you really want, do not let anything get in your way. Hardships may come, but just push through. Some finish fast and some finish slow, but as long as you get to your end goal and you are happy, that is what truly counts.

Favorite guilty pleasure

I absolutely love eating! I’m always looking for a new experience or a new place to try. I just love how different flavors can be jammed into such a neat presentation.