2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry for insight into cells

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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Roger D. Kornberg of Stanford University won the 2006 Nobel Prize for chemistry "for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription". Kornberg's prize-winning work explains how information encoded in genes is used to produce the proteins that keep cells functioning.

Eucaryotes are a multi-celled organisms, such as animals, plants and fungi, which have their genetic material stored in nuclei within their cells. In order to use their genetic information, eukaryotes must extract bits of the coded information. This occurs via the formation of messenger RNA, which consists of copies of a particular gene within the DNA strand. Protein biosynthesis takes place when proteins are built from the information transcribed with the messenger RNA. Eucaryotic transcription is vital for life. If the transcription is interrupted, as can happen when cells are exposed to certain toxins, the cells will die.

Kornberg documented eukaryotic transcription with snapshots of the process in action. He created the snapshots by crystallizing cellular material partway through transcription, and exposing them to x-rays that produced patterns revealing the intermediate structures. Kornberg's work is vital for our understanding of life at the molecular level, and may lead to novel drugs and medical treatments.

Kornberg's father Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1959 for explaining how organisms make DNA from amino acids.