One-on-one mentorship is challenging Sonia Alcantar to push the limits of what is known about the lifecycle of wasps—and what she wants for her future.
The biology major and her faculty advisor are following up their research on the lifecycle of wasps with a UNG summer FUSE project to answer what causes a caterpillar’s thousands of identical offspring to split into either sterile soldiers or reproductive embryos.
“But what makes them decide to become a soldier or reproductive embryo?” Sonia questions. “If we could figure that out, what we learn could apply to cancer research.”
Sonia, who plans to be a doctor, says unlike cancer cells that continue to divide and reproduce with no limits, caterpillar cells hold the secret of how to stop dividing.
Prior to this project, Sonia presented her research on biochar at University of Georgia’s Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference. As a teaching assistant, Sonia investigated whether burning compost in gardens actually aids in plant growth. In a 44-day experiment, she mixed carbon-rich biochar into the soil of kale and lettuce plants in UNG’s greenhouse and found that biochar increases soil carbon content, which could stimulate plant growth.
“A long-term study is needed, one that would involve a longer cycle of production like fruit rather than seasonal plants,” Sonia says. “If biochar can be that one thing that can help produce more peaches, we don’t have to degrade the earth and take up more land to plant food.”
Through the honors mentor program, Sonia shadowed an OBGYN physician for an entire year, getting on-the-job insight. She analyzed infected cells in patients’ lab slides, learned how to insert birth control into the arm and located a baby’s heartbeat on a monitor. Before she graduates, she plans to shadow other physician specialists with hopes of thriving as an emergency room doctor someday.
“Don’t limit yourself,” Sonia says. “Put yourself out there in making friends and talking with professors. You’ll never know what they’ll help you achieve in your life.”