That’s what chemists with University of California, Irvine, and South Australia’s Flinders University managed to do. All it took was a chemical solution and a machine that might have gotten its name from someone watching Back to the Future a few too many times.
Vortex fluid device (Courtesy of Gregory Weiss)
“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. “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.”
When you boil an egg, the heat causes the proteins inside the egg white to tangle and clump together, solidifying it. New research published in ChemBioChem by scientists at UC Irvine shows how they can essentially reverse the clumping process by adding their chemicals and running it through the Vortex fluid device.
Physics aside, the unboiling technique could be useful in a lot of biomedical applications, the researchers said. Proteins often “misfold” into useless shapes when they are formed, but if scientists could refold them again, it could save money for drug development.
Traditional methods of recovering the misfolded proteins are expensive and time-consuming, Weiss said. By contrast, his unboiling technique takes only a few minutes — thousands of times faster than what was possible before.
No word on how close they are to reverse the late night drunk dial or Taco Bell midnight run, but early indications are promising.