Published on July 24, 2023
There was little doubt where Margaret Beecher was going to continue her education after earning her high school diploma. Living just a couple hours from Columbia, in a family full of Tigers, Beecher knew the University of Missouri was going to be the perfect fit for her.
Receiving the Chancellor’s Award scholarship from MU was a nice bonus, too.
“I come from a family of Mizzou graduates, so it wasn’t surprising that I would follow in their footsteps,” said Beecher, who is from the Kansas City, Missouri, area. “Being familiar with what all the campus had to offer was really important as I was making my decision. Plus, the scholarship opportunities here are so strong. Choosing Mizzou was an easy decision at the end of the day.”
Beecher already knew which degree she was going to pursue once she arrived on campus as well. Her father is a biochemist, who primarily works with plants, and Beecher always had a passion for science, leading her to choose the biochemistry degree program at MU.
“Growing up, I was very focused on STEM,” Beecher said. “I spent a lot of time with my dad at various greenhouses learning about plants and water. It was really neat to see the projects taking place, and those experiences definitely sparked my interest in science and research.”
When Beecher, who will be a senior this fall, arrived at Mizzou, she knew she wanted to find opportunities to participate in research. For the past year, she has been a part of the Donald Burke-Agüero laboratory. A professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and a joint professor of biochemistry, Burke-Agüero’s research explores the many roles of ribonucleic acid, or RNA.
Beecher is working directly with Brian Thomas, an MD-PhD candidate in the MU School of Medicine.
“As I got more involved with biochemistry, I realized that I was most interested in the clinical side, related to treating diseases,” Beecher said. “The Burke-Agüero lab has been perfect for that interest area. We work with aptamers, which are single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules that can selectively bind to a specific target, like a protein.”
Beecher’s research is looking to see if they can use an aptamer, that binds to proteins, that would be highly expressed in cancer.
“We’re working to see if we can use that binding ability to selectively target chemotherapeutics, or anti-cancer drugs, to fight cancer cells,” Beecher said.
Beecher has a personal tie to her project as well. Her grandfather had non-small cell lung cancer a couple of years ago. He had surgery that removed about a third of his lung.
“Cancer affects everyone in some way,” Beecher said. “To know that the work I’m doing is on a disease that has numerous real-world implications, it’s powerful. It puts everything in perspective and makes my work incredibly meaningful.”
Beecher’s research this summer is being funded through the Cherng Summer Scholars program. A full-time, nine-week summer research or creative scholarship program for Honors College students, the program is supported by a gift from Peggy and Andrew Cherng and the Panda Charitable Foundation. Recipients receive a $7,000 award and access to a $1,000 project expense account.
“I was happy to receive the funding for sure,” Beecher said. “I knew I was going to need some type of aid, so this award was huge.
“I’ve also enjoyed getting to hear about the projects that my peers are participating in. There is so much cool research taking place, and it’s been fun interacting and learning more about their work.”
Beecher, who is also minoring in biological sciences and French, said she would like to continue to pursue research in the future and is looking at attending graduate school.
“The biochemistry degree program and my research opportunities have definitely prepared me for the future,” Beecher said. “No matter what route I choose, I know I’m going to be ready. I appreciate how I’ve been able to take what I’m learning in the classroom and apply it to real-life situations.”