Dilute and reuse your antibodies

Antibodies are central tools in bioscience research and there's a loooong list of techniques we couldn't use if we had to do without them. Unfortunately, antibodies don't fall from the sky -- they have to be produced somehow...

While monoclonal antibodies are produced in vitro using cell culture, polyclonal antibodies are produced from live animals. That's why you often see differences in performance between different batches of 'the same' polyclonal antibody.

Production of antibodies in animals is not only causing issues with reproducibility and cross-reactivity for scientists -- it's also not great in terms of planetary resources and animal welfare.


We are using resources like crops, water, space and energy to breed, keep and feed the animals. In the EU alone, we are using up to 1 million animals per year for antibody production!

Those resources could have been used differently -- for example to feed people or grow forest. Animals used for antibody production are btw not eaten after their work is done -- they are disposed of as medical waste and burned in incinerators. This also contributes to the ecological footprint of antibody production.


A range of species can be used to generate polyclonal antibodies, including sheep, goats, mice, rats, chickens, and rabbits. Rabbits belong to the favorites as they are relatively large and easy to breed and keep. In short, they fit well into an industrial setup.

Unfortunately, the animals that produce antibodies for us don't live wonderful lives. In fact, it's widely accepted (also by the EU) that there can be "severe suffering" associated with the procedures that the animals go through. Not only do they grow up outside their natural habitats, they also have their immune responses triggered repeatedly to produce the antibodies that we want. And once they have produced antibodies that recognise our antigen of interest -- and in sufficient amounts -- the common procedure is to anaesthetise the animal, drain it for blood directly from the heart, and then kill it. That's tough!


First of all: use non-animal-derived antibodies when possible.

And if that isn't an option, you can consider how you are using your antibodies:

  1. What's the minimum concentration of antibody that you need -- how low can you go?

  2. Can you reuse your antibodies -- maybe even multiple times? Can you optimise the way you store your antibodies so they last longer and perform well more than once?

Importantly, when you find the optimal dilution and reuse-number for your antibodies, remember to share this knowledge with your lab mates so they can reduce antibody usage as well. And btw: if your boss doesn't really care about the planet or animal welfare, I am sure that he/she at least will appreciate having the antibody expenses reduced!

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