Dr. Roger D. Kornberg

2006 Winner of Nobel Prize in Chemistry


  • Born April 24, 1947 in St. Louis, MO
  • 68 years old
  • Earned Bachelor's degree at Harvard University and Ph.D. Stanford University
  • Taught Structural Chemistry at Stanford University when he received the prize
  • Studies Biochemistry and Structural Chemistry
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Nifty Facts About Dr. Kornberg

  • His mom, Sylvy Kornberg, was a biochemist too
  • His father, Arthur Kornberg, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine
  • His father's discoveries lead to his discoveries
  • Dr. Kornberg has two brothers; one is a biochemist and the other is an architect
  • Dr. Kornberg is Jewish

Why Did He Win?

  • Dr. Kornberg won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research in Eukaryotic Transcription
  • Discovered a protein complex, named the Mediator, that is required for DNA to replicate in eukaryotes

  • He figured out that there are certain proteins that are attached to RNA that make the process of transcription possible
  • He also figured out that this protein he discovered was consistently in all eukaryotes
  • Because of the Mediator, DNA replication in eukaryotes is different than in prokaryotes.
  • The Mediator is purple in the below picture
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Some Terms to Help Understand What the Heck This Means

  • Prokaryote: cell without a nucleus (ex. some bacteria cells)
  • Eukaryote: cell with a nucleus (ex. cells in humans, mammals, and plants)
  • Transcription: the process where RNA breaks apart and copies DNA so that the cells can multiply; we need transcription so the body can make more of the right type of cells
  • RNA: similar to DNA, goes into the nucleus and helps copy DNA so that cell can multiply
  • DNA: like a blueprint of the cell; exists in the nucleus
  • Protein Complex: a group of connected proteins; in this case, the proteins help the process of transcription happen
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Lab Work and Experiments

  • Dr. Kornberg did research at Cambridge and Stanford
  • He explored the structure of DNA/RNA by making 2D protein crystals and studying them using electron microscopes (a process called x-ray crystallography)
  • He tried first to study rat liver neuclei to see transcription but the rat liver was too complicated to observe the process
  • He ended up using yeast because it's unicellular (made of one cell), so it was simpler to observe

What Was Significant About This Contribution to Science?

  • This discovery took 20 years of biochemical research
  • Before his discovery, the general preconception was that Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes have the same process of transcription. Dr. Kornberg discovered this was false
  • He helped discovery the mystery of RNA transcription in cells with nuclei
  • Today, scientists use the information Dr. Kornberg researched as a foundation to make new discoveries
  • With Dr. Kornberg's discovery, scientists can move forward in research of the process of transcription in the future to help with research on diseases, genetics, and general body functions
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