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Roger Kornberg

(1947 - )

Roger D. Kornberg is a Jewish American biochemist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Kornberg was born in St. Louis, MO in 1947. He got his PhD from Stanford University and now teaches biochemistry as the Mrs.George A. Winzer Professor in Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. In 2006, Kornberg received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, thirty-seven years after his father, Arthur Kornberg, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Both Roger Kornberg’s parents, as well as one of his two brothers, are biochemists, and Roger married an Israeli scientist, Yahlo Lorch, a Stanford professor of structural biology. The couple spend almost half the year in their apartment in Jerusalem, where Roger advises his research team over the Internet. Kornberg has served as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for the past 20 years.

Roger Kornberg received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his groundbreaking work on transcription, a process of DNA replication. The following press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Kornberg's work:

In order for our bodies to make use of the information stored in the genes, a copy must first be made and transferred to the outer parts of the cells. There it is used as an instruction for protein production – it is the proteins that in their turn actually construct the organism and its function. The copying process is called transcription. Roger Kornberg was the first to create an actual picture of how transcription works at a molecular level in the important group of organisms called eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have a well-defined nucleus). Mammals like ourselves are included in this group, as is ordinary yeast.

Transcription is necessary for all life. This makes the detailed description of the mechanism that Roger Kornberg provides exactly the kind of "most important chemical discovery" referred to by Alfred Nobel in his will.

If transcription stops, genetic information is no longer trans­ferred into the different parts of the body. Since these are then no longer renewed, the organism dies within a few days. This is what happens in cases of poisoning by certain toadstools, like the death cap, since the toxin stops the transcription process. Understanding of how transcription works also has a fundamental medical importance. Disturbances in the transcription process are involved in many human illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation.

The capacity of stem cells to develop into different types of specific cells with well-defined functions in different organs, is also linked to how the transcription is regulated. Understanding more about the transcription process is therefore important for the development of different therapeutic applications of stem cells.

Sources:, JTA News