Chemists discover how to unboil an egg

Chemists working in California and South Australia have worked out how to unboil egg whites, a process they say could transform how proteins are produced in medical labs and in food production.

The scientists employ a vortex fluid device, a machine designed at Professor Colin Raston’s chemistry lab at Flinders University in South Australia. The results have been published in ChemBioChem.

“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” said University of California chemistry Professor Gregory Weiss. “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.”

Weiss said the team was not particularly interested in eggs – “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 want want some means of recovering that material”.

To recreate a clear protein known a lysozyme in a boiled egg, Weiss and his colleagues add a urea substance that liquefies the soild egg white. They then use Raston’s vortex fluid device, which works to untangle the protein at a molecular level. The process takes minutes.

A technique that can reform common proteins from yeast or E. coli bacteria cheaply and quickly has the potential to make cancer treatments more affordable, and could also be used in cheese production.

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