Roger Kornberg of the US won the Nobel Chemistry Prize yesterday for exploring a key process of life called gene transcription, taking further Nobel prize-winning work done by his own father.
Kornberg, 59, received the distinction "for his fundamental studies concerning how the information stored in the genes is copied, and then transferred to those parts of the cells that produce proteins," the jury said in its citation.
Now a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, Kornberg was only 12 when he came to Stockholm to see his father, Arthur Kornberg, honored with the 1959 Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Kornberg senior was honored for advancing understanding on how genetic information is transferred from a mother cell to its daughters.
Under the process of transcription, the genetic code, DNA, is copied by an enzyme and the copy is then stored in the outer part of the cell. Like computer software, this copy is then used as an instruction to cellular machinery to make proteins, the molecules that comprise and repair the body's tissues.
This year's prize is for "eukaryotic transcription" -- eukaryotes are a biological term for a vast category of organisms whose cells have a well-defined nucleus. Human beings come into this category.
"Transcription is necessary for all life," the Nobel jury said in its statement.
Disturbances in the transcription process are involved in many human illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation.
"If transcription stops, genetic information is no longer transferred into different parts of the body. Since these are no longer renewed, the organism dies within a few days," the jury said.
Last year, Yves Chauvin of France and Americans Robert Grubbs and Richard Schrock won the prize for a breakthrough in carbon chemistry that opens the way to smarter drugs and environmentally-friendlier plastics.
This year's laureates will receive a gold medal and share a cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor (US$1.37 million) at the formal prize ceremony on Dec. 10.