2022 Herbert Newby McCoy Award – Juli Feigon

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Professor Juli Feigon receives the prestigious 2022 McCoy Award, which recognizes the researchers in the department who have made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry.

This year two faculty members received the 2022 Chemistry & Biochemistry Herbert Newby McCoy Award for their important research projects. Feigon and Professor Xiangfeng Duan (read about his research here) were recognized at our annual departmental awards ceremony on May 13, 2022.

Feigon is being recognized for her group’s recent pioneering work to elucidate the structural and mechanistic details of the telomerase complex.

“The recent work by the Feigon lab represent the most detailed views yet of this biomedically crucial enzyme and is undoubtedly among the most significant contribution to science this year made by our department,” said nominator Professor Joseph Loo.

Telomerase is a DNA polymerase that extends the 3′ ends of chromosomes by processively synthesizing multiple telomeric repeats. It is a unique ribonucleoprotein (RNP) containing a specialized telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and telomerase RNA (TER) with its own template and other elements required with TERT for activity (catalytic core), as well as species-specific TER-binding proteins important for biogenesis and assembly (core RNP); other proteins bind telomerase transiently or constitutively to allow association of telomerase and other proteins with telomere ends for regulation of DNA synthesis. Telomerase maintains genomic integrity, and its activity or dysregulation are critical determinants of human longevity, stem cell renewal and cancer progression.

In a 2021 paper published in Nature, the Feigon group report the cryo-electron microscopy (EM) structures of active telomerase with telomeric DNA at different steps of nucleotide addition.

Interactions between telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), TER and DNA reveal the structural basis of the determination of the 5′ and 3′ template boundaries, handling of the template–DNA duplex and separation of the product strand during nucleotide addition. Their work here provides molecular insights into telomerase assembly, the mechanism of telomeric repeat synthesis, telomerase recruitment and telomeric DNA handling with unprecedented detail. (A companion commentary article can be viewed here.)

And in a recent 2022 paper published in Nature, the Feigon lab report on the structure of active human telomerase with the telomere shelterin protein, TPP1.

Telomerase is recruited to telomeres and activated for telomere repeat synthesis by TPP1. They report cryo-EM structures of the human telomerase catalytic core of telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and telomerase RNA (TER or hTR) at 3.3Å and the first structure with TPP1 at 3.5Å resolution. Their structures define the determinants of telomerase recruitment to telomeres by TPP1, reveal the unique TERT–TER interactions that regulate telomerase activity, assembly, and template–DNA handling. Moreover, because numerous mutations leading to telomeropathies are located at the TERT–TER and TEN–TRAP–TPP1 interfaces, their work provides a basis for structure-guided telomerase-targeted drug discovery and a deeper understanding of disease mutations leading to telomere biology disorders.

About the Herbert Newby McCoy Award

The Herbert Newby McCoy Award was established in 1964 by Mrs. Ethel Terry McCoy, also a chemist, in honor of her husband who was an American chemist who taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Utah and was the vice-president of Lindsay Light & Chemical Company. Each year the award is given to the researcher(s) in the department who made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry. The selection of the winner(s) is made by the full professors of the department and the Chancellor. Nobel Laureate Donald Cram was the recipient of the first McCoy Award in 1965.

  • 2022  Xiangfeng Duan, Juli Feigon
  • 2020-21 Ellen Sletten
  • 2019-20 Ohyun Kwon
  • 2018-19 Jose Rodriguez & Hosea Nelson
  • 2017-18 Hosea Nelson, Elena Grintsevich
  • 2016   Anastassia Alexandrova, Ankur Gholkar, Patrick Harran
  • 2015   Anne Hong-Hermesdorf, Kendall Houk, Neil Garg 
  • 2014   Jeffrey Zink
  • 2013   Janette Kropat, Heather Maynard, Thi Nguyen
  • 2012   Maher El-Kady, Jorge Torres
  • 2011   Xiangfeng Duan, Neil Garg 
  • 2010   Carla Koehler, Beth Marbois, Benjamin Schwartz
  • 2009   Juli Feigon, Mike Jung, Kenneth Stabe, Shiho Tanaka, Todd Yeates
  • 2008   Timothy Deming, Saeed Khan, Thomas Mason
  • 2007   Richard Kaner, Max Kopelevich, Sarah Tolbert
  • 2006   David Eisenberg, Rebecca Nelson, Michael Sawaya, Eric Scerri, Omar Yaghi
  • 2005   Dmitri Kudryashov, Emil Reisler, Michael Sawaya, M. Jane Strouse, Todd Yeates
  • 2004   Sabeeha Merchant
  • 2003   Alex Evilevitch, William Gelbart, Charles Knobler, Laurence Lavelle
  • 2002   Andrea Liu
  • 2001   Fred Wudl
  • 2000   J. Fraser Stoddart
  • 1999   Miguel Garcia Garcia-Garibay, Yves Rubin
  • 1998   James Bowie
  • 1997   Rafael Levine
  • 1996   Joan Valentine
  • 1995   Robin Garrell, James Heath, David Myles, Todd Yeates
  • 1994   Ken Houk, X. Zhang
  • 1993   Emily Carter, Juli Feigon, M. Jane Strouse, H. Xie
  • 1992   Peter Felker, Richard Kaner, Flint Smith
  • 1991   Michael Jung, David Sigman
  • 1990   Steven Clarke, François Diederich, R.L. Whetten, M. Anderson, B. Mattes
  • 1989   Charles Knobler, R.S. Williams
  • 1988   William Gelbart, Z. Xue
  • 1987   Douglas Rees, M. Miller
  • 1986   Charles West, F. Jensen
  • 1985   Jeffrey Zink, T. Smith
  • 1984   Malcom Nicol
  • 1983   Orville Chapman, W.D. Harris
  • 1982   Richard Dickerson, David Eisenberg
  • 1981   Eric Heller
  • 1980   Charles Knobler
  • 1979   Charles Strouse
  • 1978   John McTague
  • 1977   Christopher Foote
  • 1976   Paul Boyer
  • 1975   Donald Cram
  • 1974   Howard Reiss
  • 1973   Verne Schumaker
  • 1972   M. Fredrick Hawthorne
  • 1971   Daniel Kivelson
  • 1970   D.A. Harris, R.B. Gillespie
  • 1969   M.A. El-Sayed
  • 1968   Frank Anet
  • 1967   Daniel Atkinson
  • 1966   Saul Winstein
  • 1965   Donald Cram

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.