Flinders/US scientists figure out way to uncook an egg

Professor Colin Raston
Professor Colin Raston is the inventor behind the vortex fluid device, which enables chemists to unfold incorrectly formed proteins to their natural state.

Scientists from Flinders University and the University of California-Irvine have found a way to essentially uncook an egg, in a remarkable breakthrough that could drastically cut costs for the pharmaceutical industry.

Using a machine called the vortex fluid device – invented by Flinders Professor Colin Raston – the researchers have discovered the revolutionary ability to untangle the proteins in the white of a hard-boiled egg to make them active again in a clear solution.

As an egg is boiled, proteins in the egg white begin to unravel then re-fold in a tight, tangled structure that gives the boiled egg its white, rubbery look.

Proteins are used in a variety of industries including in the development of cancer medications, however Professor Raston said they tend to “misfold” – as the proteins in an egg white do when it is being cooked – rendering them useless.

“If you think of a protein as a long piece of spaghetti, it coils up in a special way,” Professor Raston said.

“Often these proteins coil up into structurally incorrect shapes which makes them extremely difficult to process,” he said.

“But the vortex fluidic device causes the proteins to unwind and refold normally by spinning the material in a liquid in a rapidly rotating tube which can be titled at different angles, and the speed of rotation can be varied.”

Professor Raston, the South Australian Premier’s Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology, said the breakthrough research has the potential to improve the efficiency of protein processing, dramatically reducing the amount of waste generated and making the procedure cheaper and cleaner.

“The processing time is dramatically reduced from days to minutes, and also results in a dramatic reduction in the amount of waste being generated,” Professor Raston said.

“This is important in developing sustainable, cost-effective technologies for the future.

“The pharmaceutical industry has a $160 billion annual industry based exclusively on proteins so if we can cut the processing time, and save waste, it will pave the way for new protein applications.

“Using the vortex fluid device we’ve also been able to demonstrate how to make biodiesel in a much more efficient way, which is a $180 billion a year industry, so the potential is huge. And the number of applications of the device in medicine, health and indeed food processing are rapidly growing.”

The findings, which have just been published in the European journal ChemBioChem, result from a multidisciplinary collaboration with Professor Greg Weiss and his research team at the University of California-Irvine.

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