LOS ANGELES (CBS Sacramento) – Science has yet to find a way to un-break an egg…but it is getting closer to unboiling one.

“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” boasted Gregory Weiss, a chemistry professor at UC Irvine. “In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold. We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order.”

While it may not have much practical use in your kitchen, the technique could revolutionize work on biochemical materials in the lab.

“It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,” Weiss explained. “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.”

Like many researchers, Weiss has struggled to find a way to recycle valuable molecular proteins that have a wide range of applications but which frequently “misfold” into structurally incorrect shapes when they are formed, rendering them useless.

To re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled, Weiss’ team added a urea substance that chewed away at the whites, liquefying the solid material.

But even at this halfway point in the process, the protein bits are still balled up into unusable lumps.

So next the researchers used a high-powered machine developed in Australia that can separate fluids and gasses.

The stress of the microfluid forces the proteins back into their untangled, usable form.

The application could provide huge cost savings in the $160 billion global biotechnology industry.

The ability to quickly reform common proteins could streamline manufacturing, making everything from cancer treatments to cheese production less expensive.

UCI has filed for a patent on the work, and its Office of Technology Alliances is working with interested commercial partners.

“The new process takes minutes,” Weiss noted. “It speeds things up by a factor of thousands.”

The research is published in the journal ChemBioChem.

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