Arthur Kornberg Essay

This essay has a total of 2544 words and 10 pages.

Arthur Kornberg

Arthur Kornberg
Written by: jrreid

A. Personal Information Arthur Kornberg (1918-), American biochemist and physician, claims
he has never met "a dull enzyme." He has devoted his life to pursuing and purifying these
critical protein molecules. His love of science did not spring from a family history
rooted in science. He was born on March 3rd, 1918, the son of a sewing machine operator in
the sweatshops of the Lower East Side of New York City. His parents, Joseph Aaron Kornberg
and Lena Rachel Katz, were immigrant Jews who made great sacrifices to ensure the safety
of their family. They had fled Poland, for if they had stayed, they would have been
murdered in a German concentration camp. His grandfather had abandoned the paternal family
name Queller, of Spanish origin. This was done to escape the fate of the army draft; he
had taken the name of Kornberg, a man who had already done his service. His father used
their meager earnings to bring and settle his family in New York City and was thrust into
the sweatshops as a sewing machine operator. He, along with his brother Martin, 13 years
older and sister Ella, nine years older, was encouraged by loving parents to obtain a good
education. The public school reinforced this ideal. Education was the road of opportunity
for social and economic mobility out of the sweatshops.


His early education in grade school and Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn was
distinguished only by his "skipping " several grades. There was nothing inspirational
about his courses except the teachers' encouragement to get good grades. When he received
a grade of 100 in the New York State Regents Examination, his chemistry teacher glowed
with pride. It was the first time in over twenty years of teaching that a student of his
had gotten a perfect grade. Arthur was a brilliant student who graduated from high school
at the age of fifteen. He enrolled in City College in uptown Manhattan. Competition among
a large body of bright and highly motivated students was fierce in all subjects. His high
school interest in chemistry carried over into college. After receiving his B.S. degree in
biology and chemistry in 1937, and since City College offered no graduate studies or
research laboratories at that time, he became one of two hundred pre-med students at the
University of Rochester. All through college he worked as a salesman in his parents'
furnishing store, and earned about $14 a week. This along with a New York State Regents
Scholarship of $100 a year and with no college tuition to pay he was able to save enough
money to pay for the first half of medical school. While a student, he became aware of a
mild jaundice (yellowing) in his eyes. He observed a similar condition among other
students and patients at the hospital and published these findings, his first professional
paper, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


He enjoyed studying to become a doctor, and his goal was to practice internal medicine,
preferably in an academic setting. The medical school curriculum was uncrowded and close
contact with a distinguished faculty was encouraged, but to his shock anti-Semitism was
rampant in the academic circles. He was denied academic awards and research opportunities
because he was Jewish. He had hoped to receive one of the fellowships from the medical
school which allowed a few outstanding students to spend a year doing research, even
though the idea of spending a significant amount of his days in the laboratory had no
appeal at that time. To his disappointment he was passed over in every department, due to
the ethnic and religious barriers which existed during that time, even though his grades
were the highest. Although one professor at Rochester stood out, William S. McCann,
Chairman of the Department of Medicine, the only one who made any effort to help Kornberg.
William McCann persuaded a wealthy patient to endow a scholarship of which Kornberg was
the recipient. This enabled Kornberg to pursue his first research project (on jaundice),
and allowed him to be appointed to an internship in medicine, and then to an assistant
residency, which would groom him for a career in academic medicine. Following his
graduation in 1941, Kornberg enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, being assigned duty as a
medical officer in the Caribbean. Officials at the National Institute of Health in
Maryland, aware of his brief clinical study on the subject of jaundice, arranged for
Kornberg's transfer to the institute. He spent the remainder of World War II carrying out
research in the nutrition laboratory. In 1943, Kornberg married Sylvy Levy; he enjoyed not
only companionship with Sylvy but also laboratory collaboration with a gifted wife. Her
suggestions and advice would play major roles in his research. He has also enjoyed the
privilege of fathering three sons, Tom, Ken, and Roy who have exhibited extraordinary
scientific and professional achievements.


B. Professional Information The National Institute of health was founded by Joseph
Goldberger, one of the first scientists to recognize that a vitamin deficiency could cause
an epidemic disease. Dr. Goldberger discovered the vitamin niacin, a member of the B
complex of vitamins. Dr. Goldberger emerged as one of the greatest vitamin hunters. During
Kornberg's stay at the institute, from 1942 to 1945, his work contributed to the isolation
of another vitamin in the B complex, folic acid. He always felt that he had come to the
nutrition research in its twilight, decades too late to share the excitement and
adventures of the early vitamin hunters who had solved riddles of diseases that had
plagued the world for centuries. His envy of their exploits would eventually impel him to
search for a new frontier. Having fed rats a purified diet for three years, he became
frustrated with not knowing what vitamins really did and decided on a leave of absence.
Kornberg wanted to immerse himself in the new biochemistry and study enzymes.


A new breed of hunters tracking down the metabolic enzymes intrigued him. He spent a year,
1945, with Severo Ochoa at the New York University School of Medicine and a year with Carl
and Gerty Cori at the Washington University School of Medicine. This is where he got to
know enzymes for the first time and was captivated with them. In Ochoa's lab he learned
the philosophy and practice of enzyme purification. To attain the goal of a pure protein,
the cardinal rule is that the ratio of enzyme activity to the total protein is increased
to the limit. Despite initial failures, the immersion in enzymology was intoxicating to
Kornberg; he discovered the momentum of experimental work exciting. Although enzymes were
recognized in the nineteenth century as catalysts for certain chemical events in nature,
their importance was not fully appreciated until their role in alcohol fermentation and
muscle metabolism was defined. Then it became clear that virtually all reactions in an
organism depend on the high catalytic potency of a cast of thousands of enzymes, each
designed to direct a specific chemical operation. Deficiency of a single enzyme-as the
results of mutation-could spell disaster for the cellular or human victim. It was at this
time Kornberg realized that enzymes are the vital force in biology, the sites of vitamin
actions, and the means for a better understanding of life as chemistry. Kornberg decided
to take summer courses offered at Columbia University to better understand organic and
physical chemistry. On completing these courses, he returning to Ochoa's lab. He was
luckier in his second attempt at enzyme purification. He joined Ochoa and Alan Mehler, who
was a graduate student, in studies of a certain liver enzyme and its effects upon malic
acid. Alan Mehler became Kornberg's devoted tutor. At the end of 1946, while working side
by side with Ochoa, Kornberg overturned a cylinder, which had a domino effect that
destroyed the entire experiment. Returning the next morning, Kornberg noticed one vile in
the centrifuge. The remains had separated, and he collected the solid material. This
fraction had the bulk of the enzyme activity and was several-fold purer than the best of
all previous preparations. This step (without the cylinder breakage) became part of the
published procedure on enzyme purification. During his time spent with Severo Ochoa at New
York University School of Medicine in 1946, and time spent with Carl and Gerty Cori at the
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in 1947, Kornberg refined his
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