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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, a process that could provide insight into defeating cancer and advancing stem cell research.
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.
"Knowledge about the transcription process is also fundamental for understanding how stem cells develop into different kinds of specific cells, with well-defined functions in different organs," the Royal Swedish Academy said in its citation.
Stem cells are of vital interest to researchers because they can be developed into any kind of functioning cell in a living object.
"Understanding more about how transcription is regulated is therefore one of the necessary steps, if we want to realize the full potential of stem cells in medicine," the academy said of the sometimes politically controversial process.
Kornberg, who will receive a check for 10 million kronor (euro1.1 million; US$1.4 million), said the benefits to medicine from his research have taken root.
"There are ... already many therapies, many drugs that are in development in trials or already available and there will be many more," he said. "Significant benefits to human health are already forthcoming. I think there will be many many more."
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, who works at Stanford University, 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 person to create an actual picture of the transcription 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.
"Kornberg realized this was a very important problem, and that to get to the chemical details of the (process) was fundamental," said Anders Liljas, a member of the Nobel Committee in Chemistry. "Because if you don't really see it on a molecular, atomic level, then you don't really understand it."
Kornberg's breakthrough was published in 2001, remarkably recent by Nobel standards, which normally honors discoveries made several decades ago. But it followed a decade of researching yeast cells _ whose similarity to human cells Kornberg said is "perfectly astounding" _ in search for a method to map the transcription process.
In those 10 years, Kornberg was allowed to continue his research without publishing a single major finding _ a rare luxury in the world of science where funders often want instant results, said Hakan Wennerstrom, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
"I guess it helps to have a father who is a Nobel laureate," Wennerstrom said. "But he also had previous publications of the highest level."
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.
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.
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.
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Associated Press writers Malcolm Ritter in New York, Brooke Donald in Los Angeles and Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.
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On the Net:
http://www.nobelprize.org


Updated : 2021-04-20 22:57 GMT+08:00