Arthur Kornberg was born in Brooklyn on March 3, 1918, to Joseph and Lena (Katz) Kornberg. He attended local public schools, achieving a brilliant scholastic record, and graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in June 1933, a few months after his 15th birthday.
On a New York state scholarship, he took a pre-medical course at the College of the City of New York. Upon receiving his B.S. degree with honors at CCNY in 1937, he went on a Buswell scholarship to the University of Rochester School of Medicine, where he became interested in enzymes — the organic protein juices that serve as catalysts in cell reactions essential to the life processes — and he decided to devote himself to enzyme research instead of medical practice. While at Rochester he published his first scientific paper, “The Occurrence of Jaundice in Otherwise Normal Medical Students.”
Following years of research, science moved a giant stride closer to the possibility of creating life in a test tube when, in 1967, a team of biochemists headed by Kornberg at the Stanford University School of Medicine succeeded in synthesizing biologically active DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, outside of a living cell. DNA, the substance of which genes are made, is the chemical bearer of all hereditary characteristics, the genetic template that determines the pattern of growth and development of every living thing. The creation of artificial DNA by Kornberg, in collaboration with other biochemists, brings nearer the day when man may control virus diseases and cancer through manipulation of the nucleotides, the building blocks of the genetic code.
Kornberg’s first success with artificial DNA came in 1957, when he produced a chemically exact but genetically inert replica of the natural substance. For that earlier achievement, he shared the 1959 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology with Dr. Severo Ochoa.
Before going to Stanford, where he became executive head of the department of biochemistry, Kornberg pursued his research at Washington University in St. Louis and at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethseda, Md.
Kornberg was the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees. He was also the author of Enzymatic Synthesis of DNA, published in 1962.
Arthur Kornberg died on Oct. 26, 2007, of respiratory failure.