Arthur Kornberg was born on March 3, 1918, in New York City. Arthur Kornberg was educated at City College in New York City. He received at B. Sc. in 1937, followed by an M.D. at the University of Rochester in 1941. Kornberg has an elevated level of bilirubin in his blood—a mild jaundice known as Gilbert's syndrome—and while at medical school he took a survey of fellow students to discover how common the condition was. The results were published in Kornberg's first research paper, in 1942.
From 1941 to 1942, Kornberg took an internship with Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. After completing his medical training he joined the armed services as a Lieutenant in the United States Coast Guard, serving as a ship's doctor in 1942. Rolla Dyer, the Director of National Institutes of Health, had noticed his paper on Gilbert’s syndrome and invited him to join the research team at the Nutrition Laboratory of the NIH. From 1942-1945, Kornberg's work was the feeding of specialised diets to rats to discover new vitamins.
The feeding of rats was boring work to Kornberg and soon he became fascinated by enzymes. He transferred to Dr Severo Ochoa's laboratory at New York University in 1946, and took summer courses at Columbia University to fill out the gaps in his knowledge of organic and physical chemistry while learning the techniques of enzyme purification at work. He became Chief of the Enzyme and Metabolism Section at NIH from 1947-1953. There he worked on understanding of ATP production from NAD and NADP. This led to his work on how DNA is built up from simpler molecules.
In 1953, he became Professor and Head of the Department of Microbiology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, until 1959. There he continued experimenting with the enzymes that created DNA. In 1958, Kornberg isolated the first DNA polymerising enzyme, now known as DNA polymerase I. This won him the Nobel Prize the following year.
In 1960, he received a LL.D. again from City College, followed by a D. Sc. at the University of Rochester in 1962. He has been Professor and Executive Head of the Department of Biochemistry, at Stanford since 1959.
From 1962 to 1970, in the midst of his work on DNA synthesis, Kornberg devoted half his research effort to determining how DNA is stored in spores, what replication mechanisms are included, and how the spores generate new cells. This was an unfashionable but complex area of science, and although some progress was made, eventually Kornberg abandoned this research.
As of 2005, Kornberg still maintains an active research laboratory at Stanford, and regularly publishes peer reviewed scientific papers. For several years, the focus of his research has been the metabolism of inorganic polyphosphate.
Kornberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1959 for his “discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid” together with Severo Ochoa at New York University.
In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, Kornberg was presented with the Paul-Lewis Laboratories Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (1951), a L.H.D. degree from Yeshiva University (1962), and the National Medal of Science (1979). He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the American Philosophical Society.
Kornberg has published several books including For the Love of Enzymes: The Odyssey of a Biochemist and The Golden Helix: Inside Biotech Ventures.