Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are the first two women to share the prize, which honours their work on the technology of genome editing.
Emmanuelle Charpentier (L) and Jennifer Doudna
Their discovery, known as Crispr-Cas9 "genetic scissors", is a way of making specific and precise changes to the DNA contained in living cells. They will split the prize money of 10 million krona (£861,200; $1,110,400). Biological chemist Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, commented: "The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionised the life sciences." Not only has the women's technology been transformative for basic research, it could also be used to treat inherited illnesses.
Prof Charpentier, from the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, said it was an emotional moment when she learned about the award. "When it happens, you're very surprised, and you think it's not real. But obviously it's real," she said.
On being one of the first two women to share the prize, Prof Charpentier said: "I wish that this will provide a positive message specifically for young girls who would like to follow the path of science... and to show them that women in science can also have an impact with the research they are performing." She continued: "This is not just for women, but we see a clear lack of interest in following a scientific path, which is very worrying." During Prof Charpentier's studies of the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, she discovered a previously unknown molecule called tracrRNA. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of the organism's system of immune defence. This system, known as Crispr-Cas, disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA - like genetic scissors. In 2011, the same year she published this work, Prof Charpentier began a collaboration with Prof Doudna, from the University of California, Berkeley. The two had been introduced by a colleague of Doudna's at a cafe in Puerto Rico, where the scientists were attending a conference.