Roger D Kornberg, based at Stanford University, has studied how the information stored in genes is copied and transferred to the outer parts of the cells to enable protein production. This process is called transcription, and is vital to sustain life. Disturbances to transcription are involved in illnesses including cancer and heart disease.
“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,” according to the statement announcing the prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
If Kornberg comes, as expected, to collect his award in December it will not be his first visit to a Nobel Prize ceremony. He first came in 1959, when his father Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine.
Kornberg senior described how genetic information is trasferred from a mother cell to its daughters. His son has described how genetic information is copied from DNA to messenger-RNA, which carries information out of the cell nucleus to that it can be used to construct the proteins.
Kornberg’s win means that there are now five father and son teams in the Nobel hall of fame. Four of the other father and son prizewinners won on different occasions, while Sir William Heny Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg won the Physics prize jointly in 1915.