Nobel in Chemistry Goes to Long-Time NIGMS Grantee

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Roger D. Kornberg, Ph.D., of the Stanford University School of Medicine today received the 2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his seminal studies on transcription.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health, has supported Kornberg’s research with nearly $15 million in grants since 1979. Other NIH institutes have also funded his work: the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (currently) and the National Cancer Institute (previously).

Transcription, the process by which DNA is converted into RNA for the purpose of making proteins, occurs in all cells. When transcription fails to happen, cellular processes cease and the cell subsequently dies. Many human diseases, such as cancer and inflammation, have been linked to disturbances in the transcription process.

Combining his research on the biochemical mechanisms of transcription with his expertise in imaging biological structures, Kornberg obtained a detailed, three-dimensional snapshot of the enzyme RNA polymerase—the workhorse of gene transcription. The structure, published in 2001, exposed the enzyme’s many molecular parts and their function in copying DNA into RNA. It was the first image of transcription at work in eukaryotic organisms.

"Through decades of elegant, state-of-the art studies in biochemistry and structural biology, Roger Kornberg has revealed the mechanism underlying how cells transcribe genetic information," said Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of the NIGMS. "This knowledge sheds light on a fundamental process that is key to health and disease. The achievement also demonstrates the power of innovative approaches to probe the many complicated molecular assemblies essential to life."

More information about NIGMS' support of Nobel Prize winners is available at