Max Planck Institute for Coal Research's Benjamin List and Princeton University's David MacMillan have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for their development of a new way to build molecules, NPR reports.
It notes that researchers had traditionally relied on either enzymes or metal catalysts to speed the process up, but that List and MacMillan separately found that organic molecules could fill the same function. MacMillan coined the term "organocatalysis" to describe the use of organic molecules as catalysts, NPR adds.
In particular, BBC News adds that asymmetrical organocatalysis, in which mirror images of the same molecules are produced, has been a boon to a range of fields, with the Associated Press noting that it has been used in food flavoring as well as drug development.
"One way to look at their work is like molecular carpentry," John Lorsch, director of the US National Institute of General Medical Sciences, tells the AP. "They've found ways to not only speed up the chemical joining, but to make sure it only goes in either the right-handed or left-handed direction."
The Nobel committee notes that right-handed or left-handed molecules are of particular importance in drug development, according to the AP.