A Brief History of Mouth Pipetting

By Helen Lamb, UC Davis

This was originally from a Facebook group called Open Memeing Frame.

  1. 1806 - French chemist and inventor Francois Descroizilles invents the first graduated glass pipette, which he calls the “alcalimetre.” No detail on how liquid was drawn into the device. (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/ed028p508?rand=g4g3jt2z)
  2. 1824 - French chemist and inventor Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac modifies Descroizille's device and calls it a “pipette.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Louis-Gay-Lussac)
  3. 1806-1893 - At some point, some genius decided to stick a pipette in his mouth. (???)
  4. 1893 - The first recorded case of someone acquiring an infection via mouth pipette. A physician aspirated a culture of typhoid bacilli into his mouth! (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d0e3/0bf6863aefa898b59024eced8204f2f53dac.pdf)
  5. 1893-1944 - The Golden Age of mouth pipetting. No one seems to think anything is wrong.
  6. 1944-1948 - This WWII-era photo shows U.S. Army Private First Class Johnnie Mae Welton mouth pipetting in an Army serology lab. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyhorrors/2013/03/20/mouth_pipetting/#.XTdlw-hKhPa)
  7. 1945 - U.S. nuclear physicist Lawrence Bartell aspirates plutonium into his mouth while working on the Manhattan Project. Amazingly enough, he survives. (https://www.manhattanprojectvoices.org/oral-histories/lawrence-bartells-interview)
  8. 1957 - German microbiologist Heinrich Schnitger gets tired of mouth pipetting and files a patent for the first modern piston-driven pipette. (http://incubator.rockefeller.edu/origins-of-the-pipette-why-todays-scientists-dont-need-to-use-their-mouths/)
  9. 1963 - This photo shows Former U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) parasitologist, Dr. Mae Melvin (Lt), examining test tubes while her laboratory assistant mouth pipettes a culture. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyhorrors/2013/03/20/mouth_pipetting/#.XTdlw-hKhPa)
  10. 1966 - The U.S. Army Biological Laboratories publish a brief paper titled “The Hazards of Mouth Pipetting.” Notable quote: “The method of avoiding pipetting hazards is so elementary, so simple, and so well-recognized that it seems redundant to mention it.” (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d0e3/0bf6863aefa898b59024eced8204f2f53dac.pdf)
  11. 1970s - Mouth pipetting gradually falls out of fashion in Europe and the U.S. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyhorrors/2013/03/20/mouth_pipetting/#.XTdlw-hKhPa)
  12. 1998 - A nursing student in Pennsylvania, U.S., is hospitalized for a severe Salmonella infection. Evidence strongly suggests the infection was acquired by mouth pipetting. (https://kundoc.com/pdf-the-microbiology-unknown-misadventure-.html)
  13. 1998 - A Nigerian study reports that 10% of Nigerian lab technicians pipette by mouth. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10497649)
  14. 2012 - A Pakistani study reports that 28% of Pakistani lab technicians pipette by mouth. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22910567)
  15. 2019 - Mouth pipetting is practically the stuff of legend… or is it???
Figure 1: Former Centers for Disease Control (CDC) parasitologist, Dr. Mae Melvin (Lt), examines a collection of test tubes while her laboratory assistant mouth pipettes a culture to be added to these test tubes. Source: David Senser/CDC.
Figure 2: African-American US Army WAC Pfc Johnnie Mae Welton conducting a lab experiment in the serology lab at Fort Jackson Station Hospital, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, United States, 20 Mar 1944 ww2dbase
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