Micropipettes are an indispensable part of any scientific research laboratory. Today, they are used in almost every scientific / research experiment. The instrument has made the life of scientific community all over the world very convenient. But have you ever wondered about a micropipette’s history? How was it invented and how did scientists handle their experiments prior to its invention? Let’s take a look at the history and gradual evolution of this remarkable scientific instrument.
Louis Pasteur Invents the Glass Pipette
It all began when French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur invented the first ever pipette during the 1940s. He is known as the ‘Father of Medical Microbiology’ given his remarkable contributions in the field. One of such contributions was developing a glass pipette for transfer of liquids in the lab. A glass pipette is a handheld device, which helps to simplify the transfer process of liquids, while also reducing the risk of contamination.
Heinrich Schnitger Develops the Prototype of Micropipette
Building on Pasteur’s invention, German physician Heinrich Schnitger created the first micropipette prototype in the 1950s. Heinrich Schnitger, a soldier during the World War II, suffered from tuberculosis, which led him to study medicine. When he was 32 years old, Heinrich started working as a post-doc with Theodor Bücher, Director of the Institute of Physiological Chemistry at the University of Marburg, Germany.
During that time, it was a common practice to pipette liquids through mouth using glass pipettes. Schnitger began the project of measuring phosphate-containing metabolites by applying the anion exchange chromatography. The study involved using approximately 80% formic acid and other harmful chemicals, which had to be collected in volumes less than a millilitre for subsequent analysis.
During his studies, he felt frustrated with the process of pipetting small volumes repeatedly through glass micropipettes. Schnitger decided to develop a prototype of a similar instrument with a removable plastic tip and a spring-loaded piston. In a span of few weeks, Schnitger was able to develop a piston-driven pumping device, which was a potential replacement for the gravity-based pipetting system.
In his first attempt, Schnitger used a tuberculin syringe and added a spring to its piston. In addition, he added an upward stop to control the liquid volume to be dispensed. Then, he replaced the needle of the syringe with a polyethylene tip, extracted from a polyethylene tubing. This is how, in the year 1957, Heinrich Schnitger invented the first ever micropipette at University of Marburg, Germany. The prototype consisted of majority of the features existing in today’s version of micropipette.
Bücher saw a huge potential in this device, and he insisted that Schnitger should continue his efforts in developing the device further. Schnitger worked in the institute’s advanced mechanical workshop, set up by Bücher. Based on the prototypes created by him, the lab technicians were able to create copies of the device for lab use.
Micropipette Revolutionizes Medical and Biochemical Research
Later, Schnitger went on adding different mechanical measures for accurate and easier repetitive pipetting. One of the major breakthroughs in the process was introducing a second spring in the design, which enabled the piston to release any residual fluid from the tip. The instrument had an air buffer that separated the liquid and the piston. It also helped the liquid confine to the polyethylene tip. In order to completely release the liquid, the user applies optimum pressure that pushes the second spring connected to the lower stop.
The design of the equipment was simple, yet elegant and efficient. The well-crafted features of the device tremendously impressed the scientific community. The micropipette significantly reduced the time taken in execution of an experiment, along with making the experiments much more convenient. Researchers were able to pipette more number of samples with high speed and accuracy, specially very small volumes. The invention revolutionized micro-volume liquid transfer, and with it, the field of biochemical, biological and medical sciences.
Six months after the invention, Schnitger applied for a patent of his product in Germany by using the first prototype he built. His application, dated May 1957, entitled “Vorrichtung zum schnellen und exakten Pipettieren kleiner Flüssigkeitsmengen” (Device for the fast and exact pipetting of small liquid volumes), received an approval on 24 April 1961.
Eppendorf Purchases Rights to Mass Production of Micropipettes
in the 1960s, Germany-based biotech firm Eppendorf bought the rights to the micropipette and started the mass manufacturing of the product. Due to this, the cost of the micropipette was reduced significantly, making it available to everyone on a global scale.
Adjustable Micropipette Gets Invented
In the1970s, micropipettes were improved even further by Wisconsin, US based scientists Warren Gilson and Henry Lardy. They created an adjustable format of the micropipette. This feature enabled users to adjust liquid volumes as per the requirement of the experiment.
Modern Micropipette and the Path Forward
21st century saw the reinvention of micropipettes as unimaginable strides in technology were made. Through the years, scientists have sought to overcome any limitation associated with the micropipette design. Highly advanced and automated models of the device have surfaced over the years, including the Electronic Pipette, Adjustable Spacer Multichannel Pipette and Bluetooth-enabled Micropipette have become the most remarkable lab instruments in liquid handling scientific research. Recently, it has been estimated that the global market value of disposable pipette tips is likely to be over USD 166 million by 2028, representing a CAGR of 9.5%.
In the same series, Microlit joined the liquid handling category in 1991. Over time, Microlit developed the most advanced and remarkable products range like Micrpipette, Bottletop Dispensers, E-Burette, Pipette Filler, Lilpets and solved most of the difficulties of overpricing, accuracy and instrument handling issues. Its technology and design have been awarded and appreciated by many certification authorities like CII, ISO, CE etc. In 2018, Microlit USA was launched to bring this innovation and exceptional service to laboratories in the Western market. Microlit products are highly recommended for Molecular biology, Microbiology, Immunology, cell culture, Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Genetics etc.
Pipettes have come a long way since the invention of Louis Pasteur and Heinrich Schnitger. They are now an instrument of critical importance in scientific research labs all over the world.