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Arthur Kornberg

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 03 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:50
  1. Jeanne Lenzer

    Discovered DNA polymerase, the enzyme that switches on DNA replication

    Arthur Kornberg, a prolific researcher who described his career as a “love affair with enzymes,” discovered DNA polymerase, an enzyme critical to DNA replication.

    For his discovery, Kornberg shared the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Severo Ochoa, who discovered RNA polymerase. Kornberg’s discovery helped to launch the biotechnology revolution. Downstream discoveries include several genetically engineered drugs used to treat cancer, AIDS, viral infections, and autoimmune diseases. It also laid the groundwork for gene sequencing and the development of laboratory techniques such as the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR.

    Philip Pizzo, dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, where Kornberg was an active professor emeritus at the time of his death, described Kornberg as “one of the most distinguished and remarkable scientists in American medicine.”

    Kornberg was born in 1918 to immigrant parents from eastern Europe who owned a small hardware store in New York. Although he was a precocious student and graduated from high school at the age of 15, he showed no special interest in science early on. According to the National Library of Medicine, Kornberg “collected matchbook covers rather than butterflies.”

    After graduating from medical school at the University of Rochester in 1941, Kornberg served as a …

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