In 2001 Kornberg was able to capture a detailed image of the process as it was happening.
"The truly revolutionary aspect of the picture Kornberg has created is that it captures the process of transcription in full flow," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote. "In an ingenious manner Kornberg has managed to freeze the construction process of RNA halfway through."
Lars Thelander, who was on the selection committee for the chemistry Nobel, said "this allows us for the first time to see the chemical details of transcription. They were unknown before."
The more detailed understanding may help scientists unravel and treat certain diseases caused by disruptions in the transcription process.
The knowledge may also help scientists unlock the potential of stem cells, which control transcription precisely to transform into any cell type in the body.
"This is, of course, basic science," Thelander said. "But it has many implications for human diseases, antibiotics, stem cells, and so on.
"I foresee lots of significance and use for this knowledge." (Get more information from the Nobel Foundation.)
The five winners of the Nobel prizes announced so far this year have all been U.S. researchers.
On Monday biologists Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of RNA interference, a way cells control the expression of specific genes.
Their findings, which could eventually provide new treatments for diseases such as cancer and AIDS, showed that messenger RNA can sometimes be destroyed before it is be used to make proteins.
Yesterday cosmologists John C. Mather and George F. Smoot won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research helping to solidify the big bang theory of the origin of the universe.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on October 13.
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