The pair were honoured "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent," the jury said.
The two discovered "that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body," it said.
By reprogramming human cells, "scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy," the Nobel committee said.
Gurdon is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, while Yamanaka is a professor at Kyoto University in Japan.
Because of the economic crisis and the diminished returns on investments, the Nobel Foundation has been forced to slash the prize sum to eight million Swedish kronor (US$1.2 million, 930,000 euros) per award, down from the 10 million kronor awarded since 2001.
Last year, the honour went to Bruce Beutler of the United States, Jules Hoffmann of Luxembourg and Ralph Steinman of Canada, for their groundbreaking work on the immune system.
This year's laureates will receive their prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.