How to break or denature proteins

show/hide words to know

Bond: a feeling or an agreement that unites two or more individuals.

pH: a number that describes how acidic or basic a substance is. The pH scale goes is from 1-14, with lower numbers being more acidic and higher numbers being more basic.

Protein: a type of molecule found in the cells of living things, made up of special building blocks called amino acids.

How to Denature a Protein

The short activity Breaking Proteins helps students visualize how conditions can affect protein structure, and the ability of proteins to function. The activity can be done with simple materials found in most homes. The activity is written for students at a middle school or higher level, but with more intense guidance, this activity is useful for students of any age. Download the classroom packet (PDF).

Tips for Classroom Implementation

Time Required: 1 hour

  • egg icon
    If you have more time available, you can use one egg for each treatment. More alcohol and water would be required, and wait time would likely be an hour.

Classroom set-up

  • Students can work on testing egg whites in small groups to create replicates in class. If materials are limited, one set of eggs and containers should be enough for the whole class to observe what happens.
  • Due to the dangers of boiling water and rubbing alcohol, we encourage teachers to only consider small  group work if students are older (high school level). Otherwise, it may be best for the teacher to lead the class through the experiment as a group.


  • lemon
    Mechanical bond breaking can also be explored by having students whip egg whites until they begin to turn white.
  • The effects of pH can also be explored by having students add lemon juice to the egg whites.
  • When combined with additional reading from Ask A Biologist, or additional short assignments, this protein denaturation activity can meet some learning standards.

Additional Reading

  • Proteins
  • Protein Channels
    • Protein Channels” discusses how proteins are important gatekeepers that allow on certain materials in or out of our cells.
  • Proteins and Health
    • Scorpion Venom” explores how venom affects the function of protein channels.
    • Diabetes Protein Puzzle” covers recent research looking at how one special protein is important to avoid developing diabetes.


Next Generation Science Standards:

HS-LS1-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.3. Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.10. By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6 – 8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Additional images via Wikimedia Commons. Lemon svg by Vincent Le Moign. Tart meringue by Raph Daily.

View Citation

You may need to edit author's name to meet the style formats, which are in most cases "Last name, First name."

Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Breaking Proteins - For Teachers
  • Author(s): Karla Moeller
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: May 29, 2018
  • Date accessed: June 27, 2022
  • Link:

APA Style

Karla Moeller. (2018, May 29). Breaking Proteins - For Teachers. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved June 27, 2022 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Karla Moeller. "Breaking Proteins - For Teachers". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 29 May, 2018.

MLA 2017 Style

Karla Moeller. "Breaking Proteins - For Teachers". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 29 May 2018. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 27 Jun 2022.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see

What other ways might you denature proteins while you're preparing food?

Download the -

Breaking Proteins activity (PDF)

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