And the Nobel Prize in Chemistry…..
….goes to Roger Kornberg of Stanford University for "for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription".
(Note: A slightly expanded version of this post is now up at Desicritics.org)
Those who are familiar with the field of Molecular Biology might hesitate (as I did early this morning) for a second and think – ‘hasn’t this guy already won a Nobel ‘? But that would be the father, Arthur Kornberg (also at Stanford), who won the Physiology and Medicine award in 1959 for research in a very connected filed, discovering the how the basic information molecules of life, DNA and RNA1 are synthesized and assembled. The Nobel Prize press release mentions
Forty-seven years ago, the then twelve-year-old Roger Kornberg came to Stockholm to see his father, Arthur Kornberg, receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1959)
Talk about pressure, huh ! Other then the Braggs back in 1915, I can’t remember of any other case where father and son both have received Nobel Prizes.
The mention of William and Lawrence Bragg is appropriate in this context since their research, almost a century ago, on the technique of elucidating molecular structures by bombarding crystals with X-ray lights has enabled Roger Kornberg to investigate the mechanism of how genetic information is decoded (of course, the field of X-ray crystallography has become incredibly sophisticated since 1915!). As most people know, long strands of molecules called DNA store the genetic information of life. But the actual physical work-horses in the cell are proteins. The flow of information from DNA to proteins is through intermediates called messenger RNAs (the Central Dogma of Life). Kornberg’s contribution, in very simple terms, was to obtain very detailed ‘snapshots’ of the molecular processes involved in the creation of the RNA molecules from DNA. This has shed light on how this mechanism, called ‘transcription’, is regulated in cells.
It is interesting to note that the relevant scientific papers based on which the Academy awarded this prize were published in 2001. This is a relatively quick turnover for the Nobel committee, which usually waits many years for the research to be validated and its impact to be appropriately judged before rewarding it. For example, although Watson and Crick described the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 – they got the Nobel only in 1962. Additonally, it is rare (and even rarer in modern times) for a single person to be awarded the full prize. Both are indicative of the importance of this work.
Also interesting to note that both the Physiology/Medicine and the Chemistry Awards for this year are related to the regulation of genetic information in cells.
UPDATE: I feel very stupid now for having said this: "I can’t remember of any other case where father and son both have received Nobel Prizes.". Should have done a better research. Two other cases, that of Neils Bohr/Aage Bohr and JJ Thompson/George Thompson should have jumped to my mind – since I read about them back in my high-school days. Especially the Thompson’s – since father got the Nobel for discovering electrons while son got it for showing the wave nature of electrons ! And additionally, as pointed out by Ruchira in the comments, the Curies made it pretty much a family tradition ! Full list, along with other fun facts can be found here. Bad form from a trivia geek like me to forget these facts.
1: DNA = deoxyribose nulceic acid; RNA = Ribose nucleic acid