A Problem for Eggheads

August 4, 2010

Brit Trogen


It's an age-old dilemma, and not a question that's ever supposed to be answered...  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  


The question should send you on a spiral of metaphysical philosophizing that takes you back to the very origins of the universe. Unless of course, you're researchers at the University of Warwick, in which case you simply apply straightforward computational analysis until you've arrived at the answer: it was the chicken. Obviously. Or rather, the chicken's protein.


Let's take a step back. Mark Rodger and David Quigley have been focusing their energies on one particular protein, ovocledidin-17 (OC-17), a protein known to play a role in egg-shell formation. It's found only in the hard, mineral part of the egg shell, and was long believed to be responsible for transforming gelatinous calcium carbonate into calcite crystals. However, no one knew how this could go on to form the egg shell protein itself.


Using a supercomputer, and a powerful computing tool called metadynamics, Rodger and Quigley (who, by the way, sound like an awesome crime-fighting duo) discovered that OC-17 works as a catalyst in the crystallization process, clamping on to the surface of the egg, in addition to recycling itself by naturally falling off again, in a process that could essentially allow the creation of eggshell particles overnight.


If you're anything like me, you've probably always assumed it was the egg, since dinosaurs came before chickens, right? But I guess, as it turns out, it's a semantics thing. If a dinosaur lays an egg that then gives rise to the first neo-chicken through some strange mutation, it wouldn't really be a chicken egg, apparently. So it would still be the chicken before the (chicken) egg. (For the record, I'm not sure I buy that either...)


But in any case... that's one down! Now that we've cracked this problem, what's next? A tree falling in the forest? The sound of one hand clapping?



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