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American Roger Kornberg wins Nobel chemistry prize, nearly 50 years after his father won medicine prize

American Roger Kornberg wins Nobel chemistry prize, nearly 50 years after his father won medicine prize

American Roger D. Kornberg, whose father won a Nobel Prize nearly 50 years ago, was awarded the prize in chemistry Wednesday for his studies of how cells take information from genes to produce proteins.
Disturbances in that process, known as transcription, are involved in many human illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation. Understanding transcription also is vital to the development of treatments using stem cells.
Kornberg had spent the previous two days traveling from Europe to his home in California when he was called and told of the award.
"So when the telephone first rang I was completely bewildered," he said in a telephone interview with journalists in the Swedish capital. "I'm still shaking. I hope I will be able to calm down shortly."
Kornberg's father, Arthur, shared the 1959 Nobel medicine prize with Severo Ochoa, for their studies of how genetic information was transferred from one DNA molecule to another.
The 59-year-old researcher said he remembered traveling to Stockholm with his father for the Nobel Prize award ceremonies.
"I have always been an admirer of his work and that of many others preceding me. I view them as truly giants of the last 50 years. It's hard to count myself among them," he said. "Something so remarkable as this can never be expected even though I was aware of the possibility. I couldn't conceivably have imagined that it would become reality."
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 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.
Danish scientist Niels Bohr won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1922 and his son, Aage, shared the physics award with American Ben Mottelson in 1974.
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.
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Associated Press Writer Karl Ritter contributed to this report.
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On the Net:
http://www.nobelprize.org


Updated : 2021-08-01 11:27 GMT+08:00