The Last Pipette Standing

Ashely N. White, Ph.D.

Ashely N. White, Ph.D.

You First Services Research Scientist

Disinfecting Pipette Tips

Laboratory Waste Associated with Single-Use Pipette Tips

Pipette tips are frequently used in labs, both research and medical. Pipetting is the most common technique performed in laboratories, resulting in pipette tips being used in large numbers across the globe. This means it’s not atypical for a lab to go through hundreds of pipette tips in a single day. The current procedure for disposing of used pipette tips involves discarding them as biohazard waste. Every year, this leads to laboratories unnecessarily disposing of over 36,000 tonnes of pipette tips. This produces a staggering amount of waste and results in a financial burden for the lab.

We consider plastic to be extremely durable, but it’s this durability that leads to its extraordinary resistance to degradation and considerably long half-life. The durability of plastic can cause its biodegradation to take up to hundreds of years. Scientific research contributes a significant amount of plastic waste, producing about five and a half million tonnes of plastic, globally. As if this impact on the environment wasn’t bad enough, the reliance on single-use pipette tips has also contributed to a global shortage, affecting research as we know it.

Global Pipette Shortage

In December 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added pipette tips to the “Device Shortage List.” There are several causes for this shortage, but the most notable contributor to this shortage has been the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has caused the demand for tips needed for both the testing and research of the coronavirus to skyrocket. As a result, by March 2021, nearly half of all COVID-19 focused laboratories in the U.S. struggled to get the essential supplies needed for testing.

Manufacturing has been negatively affected by the pandemic as well, with insufficient staffing causing a slowdown in production. However, even when a supplier is available, it has become increasingly difficult to import goods across international borders because of recent mandatory quarantines for incoming shipping containers. In addition, since the start of the pandemic, consumers are also seeing a doubling of surcharges associated with the purchase and shipment of pipette tips.

Impact on Research

Because of the shortage, labs across the globe are being forced to prepare for the possibility that they could be without tips for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, amid constant pressure to maintain efforts toward development and discovery, biomedical analysis and other ongoing research can’t afford to just wait patiently for supplies to arrive. This means that the labs have no other option than to limit their pipette usage as much as possible to conserve their current stock. This requires scientists and medical professionals to be extremely mindful when doing work in the lab; making sure to “stretch” a single tip as far as possible before its disposal.

Conservation may seem like it should already be a common practice, but most professionals, myself included, know that we can be unintentionally very wasteful in the lab; changing tips and disposing of them unnecessarily without a second thought. As a nation, we have yet to reach the point of laboratory work being halted, but we have to be mindful of the possibility and become proactive if this shortage continues.

Reprocessing Pipette Tips with GloTran

What if there was a way to safely reuse pipette tips in the lab without affecting the integrity of the research or testing? If each pipette tip could be properly washed and thoroughly disinfected, we could break the wasteful cycle of using and discarding pipette tips instead of reusing them.

The reprocessing of pipette tips is made possible with GloTran.

GloTran is an automated disinfection system that uses hydrogen peroxide gas plasma technology to disinfect everything present within its chamber. This technology can disinfect most materials that are non-cellulose-based, and the treatment is dry and cool. This makes it safe for materials that we can’t treat with wet or high-temperature disinfection methods.

Most research requires contaminant-free conditions while also maintaining an aseptic technique. This means that every time a pipette is introduced into laboratory work, it needs to be free of contamination, including that of residual DNA or RNA.

During disinfection with GloTran, the hydrogen peroxide plasma takes on electrons within the chamber causing hydroxyl radicals to form. These radicals can then break down DNA and RNA strands, either directly or indirectly, by attacking the phosphate backbone.

Ongoing research is being conducted to validate the application of GloTran in the reprocessing of pipette tips. In doing so, this would create a tremendous achievement, and would effectively eliminate the standard “single-use” pipette tips. Therefore, GloTran has the potential to not only help pipette tips shortages but can also reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment.

Why Not Use an Autoclave in Place of GloTran?

You may be thinking to yourself, “couldn’t laboratories implement this practice with a combination of pre-washing and sterilization of pipettes within an autoclave, since autoclaves are already a current standard device installed in most laboratory spaces?”.

Autoclaving is a process that uses elevated temperature and pressure to provide sterilization and is usually performed on pipette tips before their initial use. Most tips received from suppliers are already nucleic acid-free and pre-sterilized; however, this additional autoclaving is performed to ensure that sterilization is maintained after unpackaging within the lab.

Essentially all microorganisms are destroyed during this process, however, autoclaving does not fully destroy nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA. Thus, autoclaving can eliminate microorganism viability, but remnants of their nucleic acid structure can be left behind, which would lead to the contamination of any laboratory research involving the measurement or expression of nucleic acids, such as PCR. So, when it comes to the re-processing of used pipette tips that have already come into contact with samples containing nucleic acids, the use of an autoclave will not be enough to deem them nucleic acid-free once again.

Additionally, repeatedly sterilizing pipette tips via high temperature autoclaving runs the risk of decreasing tip integrity, by changing the liquid handling performance, thereby introducing an element of variation into experimental results. Therefore, the hydrogen peroxide gas and cold plasma technology provided by GloTran will be essential for proper de-contamination of nucleic acid materials, allowing for the successful reprocessing of pipette tips.

Learn how GloTran can transform your disinfection process today! 

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