Researchers have invented a device that literally unboils hen eggs, and the discovery will save biotechnology firms $160 billion.
We used to think the age-old question was "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" But all this time, scientists were really wondering "If I mess up while cooking, can I fix this egg and put it back in the fridge?" Amazingly, the answer is yes, according to a recently published study detailing exactly how you can unboil an egg. What's more, the discovery is less about correcting cooking choices than it is about improving all biotech research.
When you boil an egg, you aren't simply hardening its interior. At a molecular level, the boiling process unfolds proteins and tangles them together in a way science thought was irreversible. A proposed device, designed by researchers at UC Irvine, can pull apart the tangled proteins and give them an opportunity to refold naturally.
"We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order," chemistry professor Gregory Weiss explained. "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."
To put Weiss' statement another way, molecular proteins in the lab have a nasty habit of "misfolding" into useless shapes. Over time, that's incredibly costly, adding up to $160 billion of material the biotech industry can't make use of. This process is a valuable way of recycling proteins with massive implications for everything from food production to cancer research.
"The new process takes minutes," Weiss said. "It speeds things up by a factor of thousands."
UCI has filed a patent on its work and is currently seeking interested commercial partners to make it a reality. While the study is mostly of interest to research firms, who knows? Maybe one day egg unboilers will become common kitchen appliances after all.