ASBMB Past Presidents

1965 – Arthur Kornberg




Arthur Kornberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1918.He received his undergraduate degree from the City College of New York (1937) and his M.D. from the University of Rochester (1941). After a year-long internship in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, Kornberg served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service during World War II. He was first assigned to the Navy as a ship's doctor and then served as a research scientist in the Nutrition Section of the National Institutes of Health. He obtained training in enzymology with Severo Ochoa at New York University School of Medicine (1946) and with Carl Cori at Washington University School of Medicine (1947). Kornberg became chief of the Enzyme and Metabolism Section at the National Institutes of Health. He resigned from this position in 1953 with the rank of medical director, to assume the chairmanship of the Department of Microbiology of Washington University School of Medicine. In 1959, Kornberg moved to California, where he organized the Department of Biochemistry of the Stanford University School of Medicine, serving as its chairman until 1969 and thereafter as professor. He accepted the title of professor emeritus in 1988.

Kornberg's early studies on the mechanisms of the enzymatic synthesis of coenzymes and inorganic pyrophosphate led to an interest in the biosynthesis of nucleic acids, particularly DNA. He elucidated the key steps in the pathways of pyrimidine and purine nucleotide synthesis, including the discovery of 5-phosphoribosyl-1-pyrophosphate as an intermediate. Continuing with experiments on the enzymes that create DNA, Kornberg eventually isolated DNA polymerase I. Kornberg's work on polymerase I was featured as a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1). For this work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1959.

In addition to his academic career, Kornberg served on the committees of the Stanford Medical School and University, as president of the American Society of Biological Chemists (1965), and on the advisory boards and councils of numerous university, governmental, and industrial research institutes. Among his honors were memberships in the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the American Philosophical Society. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1979 and the Cosmos Club Award in 1995.

1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2005) Arthur Kornberg's discovery of DNA polymerase I. J. Biol. Chem. 280 (49)