Navigating The Sea of Blots

Navigating The Sea of Blots

The terms Western blot, Southern blot, and Northern blot are so widely known, accepted, and used that we refer to them simply as Westerns, Southerns, and Northerns. Ever wonder how they got their names?

It all started in 1975 when a guy named Edwin Southern reported a method for detecting specific DNA sequences by separating them by electrophoresis, transferring them to a membrane, and probing the “blot” by hybridization with a radioactive DNA probe. This technique quickly became known as Southern blotting in homage to its inventor. After that, all subsequent probe and detection methods were named as a play on the original name “Southern”. Northern blotting was the next to be described, making its debut in 1977, followed by Western blotting in 1979. To date, those are the only names that have caught on and become widely accepted, although many other blotting techniques have been developed. (See Table). For example, there is an Eastern blot, used for detecting post-translational modifications of proteins. The techniques used in Eastern blotting were actually available as early as 1976, but the name Eastern blotting never really caught on and remains controversial to this day. There is also a Southwestern blot, Far-Western blot, and Far-Eastern blot, and even some other, more obscure designations.


Wikipedia—descriptions of all these techniques are available in Wikipedia, along with a brief history of each, and common applications.


Southern, EM. (1975). “Detection of specific sequences among DNA fragments separated by gel electrophoresis”. Journal of Molecular Biology 98 (3): 503–517.


Tanner, MJ and Anstee, DJ. (1976). “A method for the direct demonstration of the lectin-binding components of the human erythrocyte membrane”. Biochemistry Journal 153 (2): 265–270.


Alwine JC, Kemp DJ, Stark GR (1977). “Method for detection of specific RNAs in agarose gels by transfer to diazobenzyloxymethyl-paper and hybridization with DNA probes”. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 74 (12): 5350–4.


Towbin H, Staehelin T, Gordon J. (1979). “Electrophoretic transfer of proteins from polyacrylamide gels to nitrocellulose sheets: procedure and some applications”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 76 (9): 4350–54.

Burnette WN. (1981). “‘Western blotting’: electrophoretic transfer of proteins from sodium dodecyl sulfate—polyacrylamide gels to unmodified nitrocellulose and radiographic detection with antibody and radioiodinated protein A”. Analytical Biochemistry 112 (2): 195–203.


Bowen B, Steinberg J, Laemmli UK, Weintraub H. (1980). “The detection of DNA-binding proteins by protein blotting”. Nucleic Acids Res. 8 (1): 1–20.


Ishikawa D and Taki T. (1998), “Micro-scale analysis of lipids by far-eastern blot (TLC blot)”, Nihon yukagaku kaishi 47 (10): 963–970.


Burgress, RR, et al. (2000) Mapping protein-protein interaction domains using ordered fragment ladder far-western analysis of hexahistidine-tagged fusion proteins. Methods Enzymol. 328, 141-157.

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