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Scientists Have Figured Out How Unboil Egg Whites, But What Does This Mean for Humpty Dumpty?

Oh come on, scientists, I, like, JUST boiled those eggs.



And this isn’t just a party trick, like making an egg stand on its end. This could have real applications everywhere from cheese production to cancer treatments. It all comes down to protein folding.

If you thought sequencing the human genome was a big deal, you should know that what’s really getting chemists, biologists, and doctors going these days are the mysteries of protein folding. Without changing its chemical composition, the shape in which a protein folds its long chain of amino acids can cause it to have completely different effects on the stuff around it, or to have no effect at all. In fact, protein folding is what makes eggs such a magical substance for cooking, baking, whipping, and growing cancer antibodies.

The work of chemists in Australia and the University of California have now come together to produce a method for untangling a protein found in egg whites and returning it to the shape it was in before the whites were boiled: effectively unboiling the protein. First, University researchers “add a urea substance that chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material.” Then, they use a “vortex fluid device” designed by Australia’s Flinders University lab to provide the shear stress that forces the proteins back into their usual shape. This isn’t impossible using current methods, but our current methods take four days. This new process? Closer to four minutes.

So the researchers can reassemble lysozyme, a protein that makes up 3.4% of egg white. What’re the applications? Well, according to the researchers, a lot:

For example, pharmaceutical companies currently create cancer antibodies in expensive hamster ovary cells that do not often misfold proteins. The ability to quickly and cheaply re-form common proteins from yeast or E. coli bacteria could potentially streamline protein manufacturing and make cancer treatments more affordable. Industrial cheese makers, farmers and others who use recombinant proteins could also achieve more bang for their buck.

By the way, Expensive Hamster Ovaries is the name of my K-Pop/Riot Grrl fusion band.

(pic Copyright: CJ Nattanai via Shutterstock)

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.