The Pregnancy Test: An Example of Democratization through Technological Evolution

The pregnancy test is a good example of how technology democratize problem solving.

Being able to tell if a woman is pregnant has always been a quest for mankind (and womankind!) and man has developed many techniques to address this.

Ancient Egyptians had a technique in which they watered bags of wheat and barley with the urine of a possibly pregnant woman. Germination indicated pregnancy.

In the 1930s, a better understanding of hormonal mechanisms allowed the development of a more precise test. In this test, urine was injected subcutaneously into a female mouse. The mouse then was killed and dissected, and ovulation in the mouse indicated the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, which signified pregnancy.

A notable improvement was then made with the Hogben Test that used… frogs. Fortunately, with this test, it was not necessary to kill the frog to obtain a result. Blood serum or the urine of a woman was injected into a female frog and if the frog produced eggs within 24 hours, the test was positive.

Then with the technical progress of the 1960s and onward, samples were tested in vitro and it became no longer necessary to use animals. The doctor took the sample, sent it to a medical laboratory (another innovation of this period) that ran the test.

In 1978, the first individual pregnancy test was introduced. Henceforth, two players disappeared from the scene: no longer was the doctor or the laboratory needed; and one player appeared on the scene, as the test was bought in a pharmacy. Today, the pharmacy is no longer needed as these tests can be bought on the Internet.

We can see from this very simple example that a procedure which in the past required rather expensive and highly skilled human expertise: a doctor, a laboratory technician and a whole battery of technology, is now available in the form of a little object that a woman can use by herself and which only costs three dollars. Thus, the individual home pregnancy test encapsulates 500 years of the development of knowledge in a form usable by a person who does not have, and cannot have, this knowledge.

Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pregnancy_test.

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