Gut Bacteria Can Now Convert All Blood Types Into Much-Needed Universal O

Scientists have identified enzymes in our gut that have the capacity to convert donor blood types A and B into the universal type O.
Kashyap Vyas

Last year, there was an immense shortage of blood across the world and many national Red Crosses announced emergency needs. The primary problem lies in the very low amount of blood available for certain blood groups.


Patients simply don’t have their blood group in supply in time. On Tuesday, scientists at Michael Smith Laboratories, University of British Columbia, Canada discovered a new instrument that may provide a much-needed solution.

The group of scientists headed by Stephen G. Withers showcased their research to the world in the 256th American Chemical Society(ACS) National Meeting.

The core of their research revolves around filling up the shortage of O group blood types which is considered to be the universal donor group in the ABO grouping of blood types.

Creating O blood types from A and B

The ABO blood grouping has a proven science behind it. The blood group symbol indicates the type of Antigen - a type of carbohydrate which is present in the outer walls of red blood cells and is part of the immune system which prevents the invasion of foreign objects by signaling phagocytes.

There are two major types of Antigens present in humans namely antigen A and B, and the occurrence of each antigen determines the blood group. If there is no antigen present in the blood then it is called an O type blood group.

Now, because of the former case, the O blood group is sought by a lot of people. The research team led by Stephen G. Withers started looking for efficient ways of creating of removing Antigens from the blood to create the group O. Surprisingly, their answer came from an interesting source: our very own gut. 

The gut produces a natural enzyme which helps in the digestion of carbohydrates, and antigens fundamentally are carbohydrates and sugars. Withers’ team used a method called "metagenomics" which is an identification process for good enzyme candidates and acts to make clinically safe blood.

Using, metagenomics they were able to apply Escherichia coli to find DNA types which would code enzymes to remove sugars like the Antigens that trigger an immune response. "This is a way of getting the genetic information out of the environment and into the laboratory setting and then screening for the activity we are interested in," said Withers.

Meeting worldwide blood shortages

Co-author of the study Withers is, now, working with other peers at the Centre for Blood Research at the University of British Columbia to validate the results of the enzymes. The research team is optimistic about their findings and are planning to test their applications on a large scale to obtain approval for potential clinical use.

Withers hopes that this research might be a breakthrough to solve the shortage of blood around the world. "Of course, it will have to go through lots of clinical trials to make sure that it doesn't have any adverse consequences, but it is looking very promising," he said.

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