Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

The Antigastronomist—Unboiling an Egg

Feb 03, 2015 05:10 PM EST

Stephan Kudlacek & Professor Weiss
(Photo : Steve Zylius | UC Irvine)

While gastronomists and foodies alike have searched for new methods of altering the chemical composition of foods, chemists at UC Irvine and the University of Western Australia have found a way to undo some of the changes. In fact, after being tasked with finding new methods for reducing the costs of pharmaceutical development, the researchers have found a way to deconstruct the problem and solved the puzzle of unboiling an egg.

Publishing their study this week in the journal ChemBioChem, the researchers innovated a way of unboiling egg whites, an innovation that promises to drastically reduce costs for the development of cancer treatments while also offering aide in other sectors of the $160 billion biotechnology industry.

"Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg," lead author of the study and UC Irvine professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry, Gregory Weiss says. "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."

While the process only proved effective in recycling the protein of egg whites, the researchers believe that the effective process may have implications far reaching in the industry. Being able to recycle valuable molecular proteins, that are important in the process of developing vaccinations and cancer antibodies, the method Weiss and his colleagues have developed  not only promises to save lots of time, but an unbelievable amount of money as well.

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

"The new process [only] takes minutes. It speeds things up by a factor of thousands."

Though the concept of undoing what heat and the process of cooking has done may seem like a simple cause, developing the process posed unique challenges to the researchers. To recover the reagent proteins that the researchers needed, known as lysozyme, the team began by adding a urea substance that liquified the solid egg whites into an unusable mass of proteins. Then, to reclaim the functionality of the proteins and untangle them into their proper form, the researchers employed a centrifuge whose stress was able to force the proteins back into the necessary shapes.

The team is hopeful that continued research into the process may add more functionality to what the unboiling process may be able to do, but firmly believe that the efficacy of their process will serve the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in very serious ways. In fact, the University of California, Irvine has already filed for a patent on the innovative process, and has now began seeking commercial partners with which they can further develop and refine their methods.

"This method" Weiss says, "could transform industrial and research production of proteins [forever]."

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