Eric Kool was born in Libertyville, Illinois, and carried out his undergraduate studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He received a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship to pursue graduate studies at Columbia University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1988, and continued his training at Caltech as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow. He joined the faculty at the University of Rochester in 1990 to start his independent career. In 1999 he moved his laboratory to Stanford, where he is the George and Hilda Daubert Professor of Chemistry.
Kool's research interests lie in the interdisciplinary fields of organic chemistry, chemical biology, and biophysics. His work is aimed at gaining basic understanding of interactions and mechanisms involving nucleic acids, and applying this understanding to the design of new functionally useful molecules. Among his most important contributions include the development of DNA base mimics called "nonpolar nucleoside isosteres"; with these, his laboratory showed that Watson and Crick's hydrogen bonds in DNA were not needed for replication of base pairs. In biotechnology, Kool was one of the inventors of "rolling circle amplification" (RCA) and "rolling circle transcription" (RCT), which are isothermal DNA/RNA amplification methods widely used in the literature. Also important were Kool's early and ongoing developments in DNA-templated chemistry, a field that is now practiced in many labs worldwide; Kool was the first to demonstrate that such chemistry can be used in living cells for imaging RNAs. More recently his laboratory achieved important milestones in biomimetic chemistry as well: the first human-designed DNA bases that function in a living cell, the first new genetic double helix (called "xDNA") in which all base pairs were designed, and the first use of unnatural genetic sets to encode a phenotype in a living organism.
Over 240 research publications to date describe Kool's work, and he has presented more than 250 invited lectures in the United States and abroad. Kool has received multiple awards in recognition of his research, including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the Young Investigator Award of the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office Young Investigator Award, the Beckman Young Investigator Award, and the Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award, and the American Chemical Society's Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award. More recently, he received the ACS Pfizer Award, and the Breslow Award for Achievement in Biomimetic Chemistry (also of the American Chemical Society) and was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Kool has trained more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in his laboratory; about 30 of them have taken faculty positions. A popular teacher in sophomore-level organic chemistry at Stanford, he was twice awarded the Humanities & Sciences Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching.