What Makes Our Blood Types Different From Each Other’s?

Just like eye color and other physical features, blood types are also inherited from parents. However, it isn’t as straightforward as most people think it is. This opens up a whole series of blood type queries like why do we have blood types, or how is my blood type determined, what is the most common blood type and so on. So, to help our readers get a basic grip on blood types, we will attempt to ask and answer some frequently asked questions about the topic.

Blood cells flowing

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

How is my blood type determined?

We all know that our blood type depends on our maternal and paternal’s genetic composition just like how most of our physical being is molded from our time of birth and as we age. Blood is a complex combination of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a liquid known as plasma. Each of these blood cells has their own important role play in keeping us alive.

Red blood cells have oxygen which is distributed around the body to get rid of carbon dioxide and other waste products. This is what give our blood its distinct red color. White blood cells, on the other hand, act as our body’s defense system by helping to fight infection. The platelets are the thickening ingredient that stops bleeding while being in the plasma liquid which is composed of proteins, nutrients, hormones, and waste products.

Our body can hold around 4 to 6 liters of blood which doesn’t seem like a lot but try and spill your cup of water (which is around 500 ml) and see how much mess you make. So, how do you determine your blood type? There are basically four main blood groups or types and they are A, B, AB, and O. They are further divided into what is known as the Rh system which expands the blood types to eight categories and they are A(+), A(-), B(+), B(-), O(+), O(-), AB(+), and AB(-). If you don’t know your blood type yet, you can give it an educated guess if you know your parents’ blood types.

Blood types according to parents' types

[Image Source: American Red Cross]

Blood Type Test

The blood type testing is universally known as an ABO typing. Blood samples are mixed with antibodies against type A and B blood then they are checked to find out if the blood cells stick together or not. If they stick together then the blood samples logically reacted with one of the antibodies. A back typing step follows this initial process where the liquid composition of the blood without cells (serum) is combined with blood that is known to be type A and B. Blood type A have anti-B antibodies, type B blood has anti-A antibodies and blood type O contains both types of antibodies.

Blood type statistics

Some people may think that blood types depend on their race or ethnical background but, actually, there is only a slight difference between Caucasians, Latino-Americans, and Asians from having an A+ blood type, for example.

American statistics of blood types

[Image Source: American Red Cross]

Does this mean we can freely donate our blood to anyone who needs it? Absolutely not, it is well known that receiving the wrong blood type in a transfusion process is life threatening. This is why blood types must be carefully matched before a patient can receive a transfusion.

Why do we have blood types?

Just why do we have blood types then? Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to that. Even after the discovery of blood types in 1900 by Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner and winning a Nobel Prize for it, experts are yet to give a solid conclusion as to why we have blood types. It’s just as mysterious as the creation of the universe itself.

A biologist from the University of California in San Diego shares his wonderment about blood types.

“Isn’t it amazing? Almost a hundred years after the Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery, we still don’t know exactly what they’re for”.

Source: NHS, American Red Cross     

SEE ALSO: New Research Shows Mass Producing Artificial Blood Is Possible


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