Western blots enter the digital age at the PCB

“Thanks to Odyssey Fc, our scientific results will be stronger and more reliable,” says Mar García.
“Thanks to Odyssey Fc, our scientific results will be stronger and more reliable,” says Mar García.

Two new Odyssey Fc imaging systems, recently installed by the Barcelona Science Park (PCB), promise to be a valuable tool to help scientists produce stronger data.

If you have ever worked in a molecular biology lab, you will know that a western blot is a widespread analytical technique used to detect specific proteins in a biological sample. The Barcelona Science Park (PCB) has recently installed two new Odyssey Fc imaging systems, which will help scientists at the PCB improve the speed and the accuracy of these analyses.

Maria del Mar García, a Research Associate in Joan J. Guinovart’s Metabolic Engineering and Diabetes Therapy Lab frequently uses the new equipment. “Thanks to Odyssey Fc, our scientific results will be stronger and more reliable,” she says.

To prepare a western blot, scientists use electrophoresis to separate proteins in a gel by molecular weight. The proteins are then transferred to a membrane, where they are stained with protein-specific antibodies that react with a chemical and become luminescent. The intensity of light emitted by the proteins in the sample is proportional to the amount of bound antibody. Traditionally, the bound antibodies were detected using luminescence captured on an X-ray film. The film was developed in a darkroom, much like photographic films are.

Odyssey Fc makes the detection stage quicker, easier, and more reproducible. As the entire process is digitised, it guarantees standardised results. Odyssey Fc combines two methods: fluorescence, a faster technique based on secondary antibodies that are labelled with fluorescent dyes (in the infrared), and enhanced chemiluminescence, which is similar to luminescence but is more sensitive.

“The main problem we face when analysing western blots is quantification,” says Mar. Traditionally, it can be difficult to tell just how much antibody – and thus how much protein – is present in a sample, because photographic techniques have an intrinsic physical limit. “With Odyssey, we won’t have the problem of saturation that films have and that sometimes means our calculations are not entirely reliable.”

This technology also has the advantage of being greener.  “Films are expensive and contain contaminating chemicals, and now we can avoid using them,” Mar says.

IRB Barcelona’s Scientific Facilities Coordinator, Goretti Mallorquí, is also pleased with the new acquisition: “The PCB bought the best machines on the market, and IRB Barcelona users are the main clients of the PCB’s Common Services,” she explains. “We are very happy that our researchers now have the right tools to do the best science.”

The new equipment is housed in the Spectroscopy Rooms in the Cluster I Building, and in the Helix Building, and is available to all users of the Common Services (SCC-PCB).