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The funny thing about writing the term western blot

Have you ever wondered what the correct way to write the term western blot is? That is, should we capitalize western when the term appears in the middle of a sentence? As it turns out, there is no consensus on this matter. There are people who strongly believe that we should always write Western blot, and there are also people who strongly believe that the term should be written as western blot except at the beginning of a sentence. Let’s look at their arguments.

There is no doubt how the term came to be. The technique Southern blot, which detects specific DNAs, was named after the scientist who first developed this method, Edwin Southern. Therefore, Southern is a proper noun in this term and is always capitalized when you write Southern blot. Inspired by the Southern blot technique, scientists later developed the methods of detecting specific RNAs and proteins, and humorously named them northern blot and western blot, respectively.

Because Southern is capitalized, some people argue that western blot should follow the same convention, so western should always be capitalized. If not, the word western means a geographic direction, which would not make sense here. Other people argue that since there is not a real person named Western associated with this technique, western is not a proper noun and should be treated as a regular word.

Journals don’t specify how you should write this in their author guidelines. I browsed some recent papers in a few journals: Nature Communications, Scientific Reports, Science Advances, and PLOS Biology. They have all published papers where authors write Western blot and those where authors write western blot. So either way is allowed by journals.

Whether you feel more confused than before, or you feel relieved because you are not wrong no matter how you write it, remember this: consistency is the key. Make sure to write it the same way throughout a manuscript. This consistency should apply to all words named this way. If you happen to talk about both western blot and northern blot in one paper, either treat both western and northern as regular words, or treat both of them as proper nouns. If you also talk about other methods such as eastern blot, southwestern blot, far-western blot, or far-eastern blot, keep the writing consistent.

W. Neal Burnette, the scientist who developed and named the western blot method, writes the term as Western blot. Read his own account of the events here: As you can see, the geographic meaning of western actually makes sense here. The method was developed in a lab located in Seattle, a city on the west coast of the United States.

(Please retain the reference in reprint:

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