"The research Dr. Kornberg did will help open the door to understanding and treating many human ailments, including cancer, heart disease and inflammation, and will help scientists better understand stem cells and their potential for therapeutic applications.
"This Nobel Prize also underscores the key role of chemistry in the scientific research into genetics. In order to take the first actual pictures revealing how the genetic information stored in genes is copied so that the body can use it, Dr. Kornberg used a mainstay chemical technology called x-ray crystallography.
"Chemistry has had a key role from the very onset of the genetics revolution. It has provided the core technologies that enabled molecular biology and biotechnology to leap ahead. I am delighted that this Nobel Prize highlights chemistry's role in such an important field of research."
E. Ann Nalley, Ph.D., is president of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, and professor of chemistry at Cameron University, Lawton, Okla.
This year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry -- Roger D. Kornberg -- obtained the first actual pictures at the molecular level that reveal how the genetic information stored in genes is relayed so that it can be used by the body. He obtained those images in a group of organisms that includes humans.
In doing so, Kornberg focused on a process termed transcription. It begins when the DNA double helix unzips so that one strand can be used as a template in creating a strand of messenger-RNA. The messenger-RNA then carries DNA's information out to cellular machinery that produces proteins.
Transcription is critical for life. If it stops, cells no longer produce enzymes and other proteins essential for life and health. With no new protein synthesized, an animal will die within days. Death can also result from the ingestion of certain poisons, which block an enzyme needed for transcription. Cancer and heart disease are among the diseases linked to abnormalities in transcription.
Kornberg obtained those images with x-ray crystallography, a technique that records the pattern formed as x-rays bend and spread while passing through atoms in a substance. Those images look like bundles of twisted wire. However, they provided scientists with an understanding of how transcription works on a molecular level.
Among the journals in which Kornberg has published is the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The ACS weekly newsmagazine, Chemical & Engineering News, ran an extensive article on chemistry's role in the genetics revolution in its March 10, 2003, issue. That story is available at: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/8110/print/8110dna.html.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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