Unboiling an egg

Scientists in Australia and California have worked out how to unboil an egg. It may sound like an odd discovery, but it’s changed the way scientists think about manipulating proteins, an industry worth AU$160 billion per year.

Flinders University Professor Colin Raston and his team have developed Vortex Fluid Technology – using mechanical energy, or spinning, to reverse the effects of thermal energy, or boiling.

When egg whites are heated, protein bonds separate and reform as a tightly-bound mass, limiting their potential applications.

Whilst the structure of proteins in boiled eggs isn’t a big concern, the story is very different for other important proteins, such as those used in drugs. The challenge has been how to access proteins once they’ve been heated and changed shape, traditionally a slow and expensive process. This technology provides a faster and cheaper way to refold proteins, generating less waste.

Colin Raston. Credit: Flinders University.
Using his Vortex Fluid Technology (pictured), Colin Raston has worked out how to unboil an egg. Credit: Flinders University.

“By spinning the boiled egg whites extremely fast, the new bonds break apart again and the proteins go back to their original shapes in an uncooked state,” Colin explains.

It will enable the pharmaceutical industry to deliver new drugs to patients faster.

There are applications in other fields too, from food and materials processing, to refining biodiesels, sensors for monitoring the environment, and chip devices in general.

The discovery won Colin at Flinders University and his team at the University of Western Australia and the University of California the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry.

“These prizes are awarded for science that stops you in your tracks to have a giggle,” says Colin, “but the significance of the outcome is really quite amazing.”

For more information:
Flinders University
Professor Colin Raston
+61 8 8201 7958