We have seen a lot of party tricks that involve eggs. There’s the disappearing egg; the appearing egg; the unbreakable egg; the colorless egg turned colored; the egg turned to a dove; the egg turned to a rabbit, and so on. We thought we’ve seen them all. But, have you seen an egg un-boiled?
And it’s not just a clever party trick, mind you – there’s a lot of kickass science behind it, and it has the potential to shake the world of many industries.
A team of scientists, headed by Flinders University Chemistry Professor Colin Raston, have unlocked the door that leads to the new age of processing proteins. Using un-boiling an egg as an illustration, the team claims that they have found a way to pull apart the proteins in cooked egg whites and allow them to “re-fold” into their original, usable shape.
Source: Flinders University
What makes this possible, say the scientists, is the addition of urea to the boiled egg. With this, the knotted proteins in the boiled egg break down into pieces, so the cooked egg is restored to a clear liquid protein, called lysozyme. The liquid egg is then processed using an equipment called vortex fluid device, which untangles and re-join the pieces in a matter of minutes.
The discovery, say the scientists, will particularly be useful in recovering “mis-folded” valuable proteins, which can be utilized for many different applications in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and food industry.
Protein often mis-fold into useless shapes when they are formed, so they cannot be used for anything anymore. With the discovery, however, scientists can now re-fold the useless proteins, which could make particular processes more affordable. In cancer treatment, for instance, pharmaceutical companies often resort to using hamster ovary cells in producing cancer anti-bodies, because they don’t often mis-fold proteins. The kicker is that this process proves to be expensive. With the application of the new discovery, pharmaceutical companies could instead use proteins cheaply extracted from yeast and E.coli bacteria and restore them to a useable form, which would potential drive down the cost of cancer treatment.
The discovery was lauded with an Ig Nobel, which are awarded to achievements that make people “laugh, and then think”.
Video source: Ted-Ed
Video source: UC Irvine