Scientists Discover the Way to Unboil an Egg

First Posted: Jan 26, 2015 10:18 AM EST

Most people know how to boil eggs, but did you know there's now a way to unboil them? Scientists have apparently figured out how to unboil egg whites, an innovation which could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the global biotechnology industry.

Researchers have long struggled to efficiently produce or recycle valuable molecular proteins that have a wide range of applications, but which frequently "misfold" into structurally incorrect shapes when they are formed. This, in turn, renders them structurally useless.

"It's not so much that we're interested in processing the eggs; that's just demonstrating how powerful this process is," said Gregory Weiss, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material."

In this case, the scientists looked at how to recreate a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled. They added a urea substance that chewed away at the whites, liquefying the solid material. Then, the researchers employed a vortex fluid device, a high power machine. Shear stress within thin, microfluidic films was applied to the tiny pieces of protein within the liquefied whites, forcing them back into proper form.

"Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg," said Weiss. "In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold. We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order."

The findings could transform industrial and research production of proteins. The ability to quickly and cheaply re-form common proteins could make manufacturing cancer treatments both easier and more affordable.

The findings are published in the journal ChemBioChem.

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