It may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but scientists have found a way to “unboil” an egg. Why would scientists attempt such a seemingly meaningless process? I mean, who really wants to “unboil” an egg? The scientists note that the process of reversing the effects of boiling on the proteins has implications for the streamlining of drug development. Researchers claim the process can simplify the way in which complex molecules are manufactured as a whole.
CNET reports that the idea of “unboiling” an egg has been deemed possible for some time. In fact, years ago a chemist by the name of Hervé This found that an egg could be unboiled by adding in an additional substance to the now hardened contents of the egg. The substance This used was sodium borohydride. Adding the substance back to the egg caused the bonds in the heated egg to break back down and the egg to reliquefy after several hours. Though the concept of unboiling an egg as interesting, the research resulted in no practical worldly applications.
However, a new unboiling method studied by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and Flinders University in South Australia could hold the key to streamlining drug development by introducing a new way to manufacture complex molecules. A University of California Irvine press release notes that the innovative new method could “dramatically reduce costs” in a variety of segments including biotech and food production.
“UC Irvine and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites – an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry”
Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry, discusses exactly how the process works and why it may prove to be a big money-saver for the pharmaceutical industry.
“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg. 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. It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is. 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.”
So how is the research going to save time and money? Weiss says that older methods of scraping test tubes to recover material is very time consuming and expensive. In fact, he likens the process to “dialysis at the molecular level.” He notes that with current processes it takes about four full days to reclaim these materials. However, with the new method discovered through the unboiling egg research, the process can be done in just minutes.
“It speeds things up by a factor of thousands.”
Want to know what the “key protein” is that the researchers used to reliquify the boiled egg whites? A urea substance that “chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material” was used. Where else can you find urea? Urine!