At the University of California Irvine, scientists have developed a means through which they can unboil egg whites by untangling their proteins, a development which NewsWeek reports has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of any biotechnology process which requires the folding of proteins.
Gregory Weiss, a biochemistry professor at UCI who is among the scientists behind the recent breakthrough in protein folding, confirmed in a press release published on the university’s website that the group of researchers had “invented a way to unboil a hen egg.”
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.
Older methods of untangling proteins has proven expensive and time-consuming as the equivalent of dialysis at the molecular level must be done for roughly four days, whereas the new process “takes minutes” and “speeds things up by a factor of thousands,” according to Weiss.
The press release published on UCI’s website indicated that the innovative new technology developed by UCI and Australian chemists could dramatically reduce costs for food protection, cancer treatments and other segments of what is a $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published in the ChemBioChem journal.
While researchers have struggled to efficiently produce or recycle valuable molecular proteins which frequently “misfold” into structurally incorrect shapes once formed, Mr. Weiss and his colleagues have managed to re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled by adding a urea substance which chews away at the whites, effectively liquefying the solid material. At which point, the protein bits are still balled up into unusable masses so scientists employ a vortex fluid device developed by Professor Colin Raston’s laboratory in South Australia’s Flinders University to force the tiny pieces back into their proper, untangled form. The researchers indicated in ChemBioChem that the method could “transform industrial and research production of proteins.”
UCI’s Office of Technology Alliances is working with interested commercial partners and the university itself has filed a patent on the new technology.