The most astonishing scientific discoveries are often those that appear ridiculous at first.

One thing most of us are sure of is that it is not possible to unscramble an egg. Even if it was possible to unscramble an egg, it is not possible to unboil an egg.

However, eggs, particularly their proteins and DNA are not that simple. If a boiled egg is treated properly, it is possible to unboil it.

The research that made this discovery just received the IJ Nobel Prize in September for the method he published earlier this year. His initial purpose was not to unboil eggs or win an Ig Nobel Prize, he wanted to find a general way to unravel and untangle proteins.

In order to accomplish his goal, he built a vortex machine capable of mechanically separating long strands of proteins that had been pre-processed with urea.

Urea not only unravels proteins but it also coats and protects them against aggregating in the vortex drive. When an egg is boiled, one of the first proteins that begins to gel is lysozyme. This multifunctional bactericide is naturally abundant in egg whites. Lysozyme is also found in tears, saliva, milk and mucus. When proteins such as lysozyme are heat denatured, electrical charges that were originally ensconced away on the protein’s interior are exposed. This makes the proteins available to bond into larger conglomerates.

Researchers were able to perfect their methods with lysozyme and then moved on to larger proteins. They were additionally able to get proteins to refold back into their original forms within a few minutes.

This is an incredible improvement over the standard dialysis techniques that are currently used, which take about all day to do that.

Refolding crystallized clumps of proteins is a bit more complicated than re-ordering grain structure in heat-treated metals.

Understanding folding is important for cancer beyond just making medication. Improper folding can be both a cause and an effect of tumerogenicity. The energetic deficits commonly observed in cancer cells can result in an oversupply of misfolded proteins. Occasionally it is the misfolded proteins themselves that are the cause of the cancer.

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Gerry Oginski
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