Frances Arnold, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, has won the Millennium Technology Prize for her work applying "directed evolution" to develop medicines, the Associated Press reports.
Arnold's research has focused on directed evolution, which mimics natural selection in the lab to create better enzymes. The approach has been applied to problems in agricultural chemistry, biofuels, pharmaceutical, and more, according to Caltech.
"Evolution, to me, is the best designer of all time. And I figured out that this should be the algorithm for forward design, for making new biological code that is useful to humans," Arnold tells the BBC.
Such an enzyme, the BBC adds, is used in the manufacturing of the type 2 diabetes drug Januvia, where it replaces a heavy metal. "They replaced a chemical process with an enzymatic process, thereby completely eliminating toxic metals that were needed … and getting solvent waste reduction of 60 percent," Arnold adds.
The prize, which is worth €1 million or $1.2 million, has been awarded every two years by the Technological Academy of Finland since 2004. Arnold is the first woman to win. Previous winners include Tim Berners-Lee, Shinya Yamanaka, and Stuart Parkin.