12 January - 20 June 2016

Method to ‘unboil eggs’ could slash food production costs

12 February 2015

A group of chemists may have found a way to ‘unboil’ egg whites, which could potentially reduce food production costs.  The researchers at the University of California describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold, starting with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90°C and returning a key protein in the egg to working order.  

To re-create the clear and ‘raw’ lysozyme protein from an egg that has been boiled, the researchers added 8M urea to dissolve the whites, thus liquefying the solid material. They then used a vortex fluid device, where shear stress within thin, microfluidic films is applied to the small pieces of tangled protein, forcing them back into their untangled, proper form.  The ability to quickly and cheaply re-fold common proteins expressed from yeast or E.coli bacteria could potentially streamline protein manufacturing and make medical treatments more affordable, while industrial cheese makers, farmers, and others who use recombinant proteins could achieve more value for money. 

Current techniques for re-folding such proteins are inefficient and challenging. The researchers noted that this rapid technique could significantly reduce times, lower costs and reduce waste normally associated with protein expression, which could transform industrial and research production of proteins as well as other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry.  They also state that processing eggs is not their main point of interest, rather demonstrating how powerful the process is.  They are now looking to patent the work.

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