American Roger Kornberg, the son of a Nobel laureate, won the 2006 Nobel chemistry prize on Wednesday for showing how cells copy genes, a process essential to how cells develop and to life itself.
Kornberg's prize came 47 years after he watched his father, Arthur, awarded the medicine Nobel in Stockholm for gene work. It also crowned a week of success for U S scientists, who have swept all the 2006 Nobel science awards so far.
The Swedish Academy of Sciences, which makes the 1.36 million dollars award, said Roger Kornberg's research into how ribonucleic acid, RNA, moves genetic information around the body was of "fundamental medical importance".
Kornberg's discovery showed how deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, which is in essence a silent map, is "read" by RNA and converted into an actual protein within a cell.
"I was simply stunned," Kornberg told Reuters by telephone from him home in California as reporters congregated on his doorstep for comments.
He said the Academy's call came at 1430hrs (local time).
The Web site for Kornberg's Stanford University laboratory shows a photo of him at 12 in Stockholm, where he saw his father given the 1959 Nobel for medicine for studies of how genetic information is ferried from one DNA molecule to another.
Kornerg described watching his father win as "wonderful", but said it did not influence his choice of science as a career.
"I was there and it was another world, another life, another time," he said. "I had an interest in science from as far back as I can remember."
The Kornbergs are the sixth set of father and son laureates.
A KEY TO LIFE
The Academy said the process of gene copying, or genetic transcription, was central to life.
"(It) is a key mechanism to the biological machinery. If it does not work we die," Per Ahlberg, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry at the Academy, told Reuters.
Illnesses such as cancer and heart disease are the result of disruptions in the process.
Since the transfer of information helps explain how a cell becomes a nerve or liver or muscle cell, understanding transcription is also crucial for the development of various therapeutic applications of stem cells, the Academy said.
Kornberg used a process called X-ray crystallography -- where molecules in a chemical reaction are "frozen" into crystals and photographed using X-rays -- to capture transcription in action and in incredible detail.
These images showed the complex structure RNA uses to make this translation. Scientists have found that knowing the physical structures of and in cells, as well as on bacteria and viruses, helped them design drugs to treat diseases.