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Techniques Lab A:
Manipulating Small Volumes


A forensic scientist removes a microscopic amount of DNA from a dime-sized drop of blood left at the scene of a crime. A cystic fibrosis patient inhales a fine mist containing "good" copies of a gene he did not inherit. When the criminologist and the genetic engineer perform laboratory procedures involving tiny amounts of DNA and other chemical solutions, each uses an instrument known as a micropipet.

A micropipet is a kind of fancy eyedropper -- one that comes in many different models and volume ranges. But while an eyedropper dispenses drops, micropipets transfer microliters of fluid. In the metric system, the basic unit of volume is the liter ("µL" or "µl"). If you put the prefix "milli-" which means "one-thousandth", in front of liter, you are referring to one thousandth of a liter, or one milliliter ("mL" or "ml"). "Micro-" is a prefix in the metric system which means "one-millionth" of the base unit. Therefore, one microliter ("µL" or "µl") is one-millionth of a liter. It may be easier for you to picture one milliliter (mL or ml) of water. If you mentally divide that milliliter of water into 1000 tiny equal-sized volumes, each volume is one microliter.


This laboratory activity introduces micropipetting technique. As with all fine motor skills, learning how to use a micropipet takes practice and determination. You will be rewarded with excellent DNA laboratory results in this and future labs.

Materials per team

Solution I, red colored water        supply of 1.5-mL reaction tubes
Solution II, yellow colored water rack for reaction tubes
Solution III, green colored water container for waste (tips)
Solution IV, blue colored water container for liquid waste
Solution V, blue colored water(large tube)      fine-tip permanent marking pen
P-20 micropipet and yellow tips microcentrifuge (also called microfuge)
P-200 micropipet and yellow tips       paper towels or Kimwipes to dry tubes
P-1000 micropipet and blue tips      

Part 1       Part 2       Activity       Worksheet       Teacher's Guide

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