Kornberg second family member
to receive Nobel Prize
By Anna Molin, Bay City News Service
October 5, 2006
STANFORD (BCN) - When 12-year-old Roger Kornberg watched
his father Arthur Kornberg receive the Nobel Prize in 1959, little
did he know that 47 years later he would be asked to return to
Sweden as the family's second Nobel laureate.
Kornberg, now 59 and a professor at the Stanford University School
of Medicine, today won the $1.4 million prize in chemistry for
his research on transcription, the process in which genetic information
is transferred to different parts of the body, according to the
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
He is second Stanford University professor and third Bay Area
scholar to be named a Nobel winner this week.
Kornberg's detailed breakdown of the transcription process at
a molecular level helped explain how cells extract information
from genes and how that process sometime goes awry, leading to
diseases such as cancer, birth defects and heart disease.
Understanding the transcription process also helps scientists
recognize how stem cells can be used to treat diseases, according
to the academy.
The elder Kornberg won his prize in medicine, for studies of
how genetic information is transferred from one DNA molecule to
another. His son, meanwhile, expanded the research to describe
how genetic information is copied from DNA into so-called messenger
RNA, which carries the information out of the cell nucleus for
protein construction. Proteins, in turn, serve as the cell's workhorse
or building blocks.
Since 2000, Roger Kornberg has used crystallography to show atomic-level
detailed pictures of how messenger RNA molecules develop.
"It was a technical tour de force that took about 20 years
of work to accomplish," Joseph Puglisi, professor and chair
of the department of structural biology at the Stanford University
School of Medicine, said of Kornberg's work. "Like other
great scientists, Roger doesn't quit. He's stubborn. A lot of
scientists would have given up after five years. Kornberg's determination,
coupled with his expertise in both crystallography and biochemistry,
finally cracked the code.''
The Kornbergs are the sixth father and son to receive Nobel prizes.
One father-daughter team has also won double honors.
"I'm a biochemist and he's a biochemist, but beyond that
he's a crystallographer, a structural chemist and a geneticist,"
Arthur Kornberg said of his son. "I have felt for some time
that he richly deserved it. His work has been awesome.''
He later added with a laugh, "I am very grateful, and so
is my family, that I was still around when it happened.''
Roger Kornberg said he was not expecting the 2:30 a.m. telephone
call notifying him about the prize.
"It's not something you plan on,'' Kornberg said. "It's
not something that motivates you to do your work. It was not out
of the realm of the possibility in recent years but it was always
unlikely ... I was surprised.''
Born in St. Louis, Kornberg was the first of three children born
to Arthur Kornberg and his wife, Sylvy, also a biochemist. As
a student at Woodside High School in San Mateo County, class of
1964, Kornberg distinguished himself as an intellectual.
"He had that aura of genius around him," former classmate
Ron Gordon, now a teacher at Sequoia High School in Redwood City,
said today. In fact, Gordon said classmates used to joke that
Kornberg's middle name was Roger, calling him "Whoa Roger
Kornberg" because he was so smart.
This year's Nobel Prize announcements began Monday when Stanford
University Professor of Pathology and Genetics Andrew Fire, 47,
shared the prize in physiology or medicine for discovering a mechanism
that turns off, or silences, the effect of certain genes, introducing
potential new opportunities for fighting diseases.
On Tuesday, George Smoot, 61, a University of California, Berkeley
astrophysicist, was one of a pair to win the prize in physics
for shedding light on the origins of the universe.
Each winner will receive a check, a medal and a diploma delivered
by Sweden's King Carl Gustaf XVI at a ceremony in Stockholm on
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