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“Eggs-ellent” Research

Eggs aren’t just great for Easter, they’re awesome for science as well! Here are a few recent areas of research where eggs have made a splash.

Rachel Muenz

use of eggs in scientific research

Eggs have been a big help in the research world, recently aiding in the development of a treatment for celiac disease, bringing new insights into environmental change, developing a new flu vaccine, and better understanding neural stem cells. 

A possible celiac treatment that’s no "yolk" (even though it involves egg yolks)

Back in July 2015, researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada created a natural supplement from chicken egg yolks that keeps celiac patients from absorbing gliadin, the part of gluten that they have trouble digesting.   

“This supplement binds with gluten in the stomach and help to neutralize it, therefore providing defence to the small intestine, limiting the damage gliadin causes,” said Hoon Sunwoo, one of the researchers, in a press release. “It is our hope that this supplement will improve the quality of life for those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance.” 

The supplement is due to undergo an efficacy trial this year, and if that goes well, the treatment could be available to celiac patients within three years. 

Eggs as “a window to the past” 

Much older eggs are also helping in the environmental science arena. Benedictine University biology professor Monica Tischler is looking at rare egg specimens, some as old as 150 years, using X-rays from the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory. The technique allows her to analyze the eggs without destroying them and is providing insight into the past environmental conditions the animals that produced those eggs lived through. 

“When birds lay eggs, they excrete contaminants into the egg, and the contaminants in the eggshell reflect blood concentrates of those contaminants,” Tischler said in a December 2015 release. “These specimens represent a window into the past.” 

That information could help researchers predict future environmental changes, some of which could be detrimental to both animal and human life. 

Flu in a shell 

In another clinical application, researchers in McMaster University’s Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine grow influenza (flu) viruses in eggs in order test new vaccines. Most recently, in a January release, they described their work with a new class of antibodies that could fight off a wide range of influenza A viruses. Their ultimate goal is a universal flu vaccine that could protect against all strains of the flu. 

Coloring eggs from the inside out 

Painting or dyeing eggs is an Easter tradition for many, but researchers at the University of Georgia Regenerative Bioscience Center are coloring chicken eggs from the inside to better understand neural stem cells. A grad student at the center has created a novel technique that combines 3D imaging and stem cell biology to label and track neural stem cells. 

Forrest Goodfellow and his colleagues have been using chicken eggs and microscopic iron beads to label these cells and then monitor them over a number of days with magnetic resonance imaging, all without damaging the cell. Their work will bring about a better understanding of how neurons develop, as well as a better idea of how safe and effective stem cell therapy could be for treating neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. 

So, while eggs are great for food and fun, they’re also a key tool for many researchers looking to tackle some of the big problems we humans face.