American Roger D. Kornberg won the 2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday, honored for his work on how information stored within a gene is copied and transferred to the parts of cells that produce proteins.
Kornberg was the first to create an actual picture of this process at the molecular level, in the important group of organisms called eukaryotes _ which, as opposed to bacteria, have well-defined cell nuclei. Mammals, as well as ordinary yeast, belong to this group of organisms.
"Understanding of how transcription works also has a fundamental medical importance," the Royal Swedish Academy said in its citation in announcing the award. "Disturbances in the transcription process are involved in many human illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation."
The 59-year-old is part of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, and his father, Arthur Kornberg, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1959 for his studies of how genetic information was transferred from one DNA molecule to another.
The Kornbergs are the sixth set of fathers-and-sons to win Nobel prizes, while one father and daughter _ Pierre Curie and Irene Joliot-Curie, won the Nobel Prize in physics and chemistry, respectively. Irene's mother, the famous Marie Curie, who was married to Pierre, also won two Nobel Prizes for chemistry and physics.
Kornberg is the lone winner of the prize, and the fifth American to win a Nobel prize this year. So far, all the prizes _ medicine, physics and chemistry _ have gone to Americans.
"The truly revolutionary aspect of the picture Kornberg has created is that it captures the process of transcription in full flow. What we see is an RNA-strand being constructed, and hence the exact positions of the DNA, polymerase and RNA during this process," the academy said in its citation. "In an ingenious manner Kornberg has managed to freeze the construction process of RNA halfway through, simply by leaving out one of the necessary building blocks from the solution he uses."
Last year's Nobel laureates were France's Yves Chauvin and Americans Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock, who were honored for discoveries that let industry develop drugs and plastics more efficiently and with less hazardous waste.
Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the prizes, left only vague guidelines for the selection committee.
In his will, he said the prize should be given to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement."
This year's Nobel announcements began Monday, with the Nobel Prize in medicine going to Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello for discovering a powerful way to turn off the effect of specific genes, opening a potential new avenue for fighting diseases as diverse as cancer and AIDS.
On Tuesday, Americans John C. Mather and George F. Smoot won the physics prize for work that helped cement the big-bang theory of how the universe was created and deepen understanding of the origin of galaxies and stars.
Each prize includes a check for 10 million kronor (euro1.1 million; US$1.4 million) a diploma and medal, which will be awarded by Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.
Associated Press Writer Karl Ritter contributed to this report.
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