Scientists have proved that it’s possible to unboil an egg using chemicals.
They added urea to a hardboiled egg to break down proteins and return it to its liquid form, before using a machine to re-assemble the broken pieces.
The experts say their discovery could one day reduce the cost of cancer treatment, as well as making cheese, for example.
When an egg is boiled, proteins in the egg white tangle together to form a solid.
Now, chemists from the University of California Irvine and the University of Western Australia, have proved the process is reversible, if urea is added.
‘Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,’ said Professor Gregory Weiss, a biochemist at UC Irvine.
‘In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold.’
His team boiled egg whites for 20 minutes at 90°C (194°F).
They then added a urea substance that ‘chews away at the whites’ to liquefy the solid material and break down proteins.
Urea is a chemical compound found in urine, although it is also made artificially too.
However, the protein ‘bits’ are still tangled and unusable at this point, so the scientists poured the liquid solution into a ‘vortex fluid device’.
The machine applies stress to the tiny pieces, forcing them back to their untangled, original form.
It is not known whether the egg is edible after being ‘unboiled’
It is hoped that the research, which was published in the journal ChemBioChem, could ‘transform industrial and research production of proteins.’
Many scientists have struggled to produce or recycle molecular proteins, which have a wide range or applications, but frequently ‘misfold’ into incorrect shapes, making them useless.
‘It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs – that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,’ Professor Weiss said.
‘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.’
He explained the old methods of untangling proteins are expensive and time consuming, taking about four days.
‘The new process takes minutes. It speeds things up by a factor of thousands.’
The researchers believe that the ability to quickly and cheaply re-form common proteins from yeast of E.coli bacteria could streamline protein manufacturing and make cancer treatments more affordable.
Industrial cheese makers and farmers, who use proteins, could also see cost savings, they added.