The Fascinating History of Thermal Cyclers

Thermal cyclers enable labs to quickly carry out tasks involving polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR is a process for replicating nucleic acids from a target sequence and has numerous applications in medical, research, forensics and other labs. 

The Origins of Mr. Cycle

Nobel Prize winner Kary B. Mullis earned the credit for “inventing” the PCR process in 1983 in California while working for Cetus Corporation synthesizing oligonucleotides. In early PCR history, lab operators had to manually cycle samples through different temperatures at various reaction stages to produce results. Work soon began on designing equipment for sample movement, heating and cooling, giving rise to the name “thermal cycler.”

The prototype PCR machine debuted between 1985 and 1986. Cetus engineers dubbed it Mr. Cycle, and it now resides at the Smithsonian Institute.

How Have Thermal Cyclers Changed Over Time?

Mr. Cycle came into being as a modification of a Pro/pette, another Cetus instrument designed for liquid handling. Perkin Elmer Cetus released the first commercially available thermal cycler, the TC1 DNA Thermal Cycler, in 1987. Because these systems relied on large compressors for cooling, they had a substantial footprint compared to today's models.

Advancements soon improved this technology by:

  • Replacing the heating and cooling technology with Peltier blocks capable of faster thermal cycling for increased throughput.
  • Adding a heated lid to guard against sample condensation and evaporation, eliminating the need for mineral oil overlays and reducing sample waste.
  • Introducing gradient thermal block technology that promotes more precise temperature control.
  • Creating new PCR reagents to improve speed.
  • Installing advanced programming features with user-friendly interfaces.
  • Enabling automation and connection to the cloud for hands-free operation and remote instrument control from connected devices.

As with many lab instruments, advances in technology and design have drastically reduced the thermal cycler's size, with tabletop models widely available. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based MiniPCR introduced the first mobile PCR machine in 2013. South Korea's Ahram Biosystems and Phialdelphia's Biomeme are also advancing portable thermal cyclers for use in the field.

Shop All Used Thermal Cyclers

Choose New Life Scientific for Affordable Thermal Cyclers

New Life Scientific is moving science forward with multiple thermal cyclers for sale in our ever-changing used equipment inventory. Our team provides fast responses and performs thorough quality checks on every instrument for performance and functionality. Plus, we back our equipment with a 120-day warranty and after-sale support for your peace of mind.

Order online with confidence, or contact us for product questions and guidance.