Want To Un-Boil An Egg? Science Has Figured Out How

You can't un-speak words and you can't un-ring a bell, but apparently you can unboil an egg -- well, sort of. Chemists from the University of California at Irvine and the University of Western Australia have found a way to return egg white proteins back to their original form that only takes a few minutes. Okay, this isn't something they were doing for fun just to prove that it can be done, though that would totally rock. This new technique has the potential for a wide range of applications from food production to cancer research.

Chick and Egg (Photo by Juegos olimpicos 2012/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)Chick and Egg (Photo by Juegos olimpicos 2012/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

All proteins are made up of amino acids that exist in chains. These chains are arranged in a specific way. It is this shape and other characteristics that give protein its properties. When the protein is subjected to a change, such as in temperature, the bonds holding these chains together in a certain way are disrupted. This causes the chains to unravel and tangle and is the reason that egg whites change from clear to white and solidify when boiled or fried. The process is referred to as denaturation.

In the lab there are certain proteins that it would be able to recycle after use. Other proteins start to degrade as soon as they are formed and can't really be used in the lab at all. According to lead researcher Gregory Weiss, "The real problem is that 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."

Boiled Egg (Photo by Ramesh NG/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)Boiled Egg (Photo by Ramesh NG/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

There are techniques to salvage proteins that already exist but they are time consuming and costly. The existing methods take around four days compared to this new method that takes only minutes.

The scientists took boiled egg white protein (lysozyme) and added urea to begin the process of unscrambling the proteins. Urea is the waste product of many organisms (including humans). This broke down the protein clumps and returned them to a liquid state. This solution was then placed into a vortex fluid device. This machine applies shear pressure to the fluid which encourages the proteins to reform in their original configuration.

This discovery could make major changes to the biotechnology industry and reduce the high cost of treating cancer. The scientists at UC Irvine have filed for a patent.

Sources: IFL Science, UCI, Pop Sci