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Arthur Kornberg, at 89, Nobel Prize recipient, author

Roger and Arthur Kornberg celebrated after the younger Kornberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2006. Roger and Arthur Kornberg celebrated after the younger Kornberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2006. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Dr. Arthur Kornberg, whose test-tube synthesis of DNA earned him the Nobel Prize in 1959, died of respiratory failure Friday at Stanford Hospital, the hospital said. He was 89.

Dr. Kornberg, an active professor emeritus of biochemistry at Stanford University's School of Medicine, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Severo Ochoa of New York University. Kornberg discovered the chemical mechanism that demonstrated how DNA, the blueprint of heredity, gets constructed in the cell.

"Dr. Kornberg was one of the most distinguished and remarkable scientists in American medicine," Dr. Philip Pizzo, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "His towering contributions have continued virtually up until the time of his death."

Dr. Kornberg and Ochoa discovered enzymes that create the genetic building blocks of DNA and RNA. Dr. Kornberg found and named what is known as DNA polymerase, which is responsible for assembling those building blocks. Their studies served as a precursor to genetic engineering and have provided the basis for many drugs now used to treat cancer and viral infections.

The doctor often referred to his career as "a love affair with enzymes."

That love was passed on to one of Dr. Kornberg's sons, Dr. Roger Kornberg, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work studying the enzymes that create RNA.

A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Arthur Kornberg was born on March 3, 1918. After attending public schools, he earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology from City College of New York in 1937. He earned his medical degree from the University of Rochester in 1941.

Dr. Kornberg also wrote several books, including a scientific memoir, "For the Love of Enzymes: The Odyssey of a Biochemist," in 1989. His last book, due in bookstores Nov. 15, is a children's book, "Germ Stories."

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