Our blood type is determined by our genetics; our DNA either codes for A, B, AB, or O type blood. This means our genetics also determine what type of blood we can receive as a blood transfusion should we ever require one.
Those with O-type blood are considered ‘universal donors’ because their blood can be given to anyone with any blood type. This is because O-type blood does not have sugars, or antigens, on the outside of the red blood cells like the other blood types. The lack of antigens means that an O-type transfusion will not be detected as a foreign intruder by the recipient’s immune system, as can happen when incompatible transfusions are given.
Unfortunately, there are not enough O-type donors to ensure a constant supply of blood transfusions, so researchers have been searching for solutions for many years. A team from UBC believe they have found the answer, removing the antigens from the surface of A-type blood in order to increase the volume of universal blood transfusions available.
The UBC researchers used an enzyme found in the human gut to strip away the antigens on the surface of A-type blood. The enzyme is coded by the DNA of bacteria found in the human gut. The team produced the enzyme in the laboratory and found that when added to A-type blood it was able to get rid of the potentially problematic antigens. Further work will be required to ensure this method is effective and does not alter the blood in any other way, however it is an encouraging breakthrough that could solve the blood donation shortage.
Source: European Scientist
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