Why being able to unboil eggs is more important than it sounds

The Tweet: “Scientists have figured out a way to unboil an egg.”

The metaphor for how some things in life are irreversible has been irreversibly disproven by scientists who have unboiled an egg. It used to be thought that the chemical reactions involved with the proteins in eggs whites during cooking could not be undone, but researchers at the University of California Irvine succeeded and say their work could be used in everything from cheese manufacture to cancer research.

In order to undo the chemical reactions the scientists were looking to untangle proteins that became folded when heated up. This could be useful in many areas of research into protein structure that require recovering as much protein material as possible from test analyses.

“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,” says Gregory Weiss, professor of chemistry and molecular biology and biochemistry at the University of California Irvine. “In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold.”

The researchers added eggs whites to urea, a component of urine, to turn them back into liquid and then they were spun in a vortex until the proteins were gently pulled apart and allowed to refold.

“They’re getting stretched apart, and they snap back,” Weiss says. “Sometimes they snap back into their natural shapes.”

This process is far faster than pervious methods which could take days to refold proteins and forced researchers to use pricey alternatives. In cancer research some scientists use expensive hamster ovary cells because they misfold less frequently. In total, this industry spends $160 billion on proteins each year, this new method would allow them to avoid some of that expense.

“The new process takes minutes,” Weiss says. “It speeds things up by a factor of thousands. I can’t predict how much money it will save, but I can [predict] this will save a ton of time, and time is money.”

Before you wonder if the researchers are now going to try to unbake a cake, the chicken’s egg was just used as a way of showing off how useful this method could be.

“It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,” Weiss says.

Image: Brave Heart/ Flickr

This post was first published on The Untweetable Truth (20/03/2014)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.