New York Nearly a half-century after his father was awarded a Nobel Prize, a Stanford University professor won his own Wednesday for groundbreaking research into how cells read their genes, fundamental work that could help lead to new therapies.
Discoveries by Roger D. Kornberg, 59, have helped set the stage for developing drugs to fight cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, experts said.
At a news conference, Kornberg said the immediate application of his work is in making better antibiotics for diseases such as tuberculosis. "There will be specific cures for several diseases in the next decade," he said.
He said several pharmaceutical companies are developing drugs based on his research, but he declined to be more specific other than to mention cancer therapy.
Kornberg's $1.4 million award, following the Nobels for medicine and physics earlier this week, completes the first American sweep of the Nobel science prizes since 1983.
Americans have won or shared in all the chemistry Nobels since 1992. The last time the chemistry prize was given to just one person was in 1999.
Kornberg's father, Arthur, shared the 1959 Nobel medicine prize for studies of how genetic information is transferred from one DNA molecule to another.
Arthur Kornberg, now 88, said that the details of his son's work are beyond him, "but I certainly admire it from a distance. ... I've been waiting for this event for a long time, and I'm just grateful, and so is my family, that I'm still around when it happened."
Roger Kornberg's prize-winning work produced a detailed picture of what scientists call transcription in eukaryotes, the group of organisms that includes humans and other mammals, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its citation.
Transcription lets genes specify what proteins a cell produces. In this process, information from genes is used to create molecules called messenger RNA. These molecules shuttle the information to the cells' protein-making machinery. Proteins, in turn, serve as building blocks and workhorses of cells, vital to structure and functions.
Since 2000, Kornberg has produced extremely detailed pictures of messenger RNA molecules being created, a process that resembles building a chain link by link.
"In an ingenious manner Kornberg has managed to freeze the construction process of RNA halfway through," the Nobel committee said. That let him capture the process of transcription in full flow, which is "truly revolutionary," the committee said.
Kornberg's major breakthrough was published in 2001, remarkably recent for honoring by Nobel prize standards. But it followed a decade of researching yeast cells - whose similarity to human cells Kornberg called "perfectly astounding" - in search of a method to reveal the transcription process.