Science Reporting

Scientists convert type A blood into universal blood by means of intestinal bacteria

The problem with blood donation very often does not lie in the lack of donors but in the lack of compatible blood. For a transfusion to be successful, the blood of the donor and the recipient must be compatible. The differentiations are established on the basis of particular sugar molecules on the surface of the red blood cells and if a person receives non-compatible blood special blood antigens are set in motion causing the immune system to eliminate it.

However, type O blood lacks these antigens and is therefore considered as “universal” because it can also be donated to patients with blood groups A, B and AB. It is in fact quite important in cases of first aid, that is in those cases in which it is not possible to use compatible blood but it is necessary to perform an emergency transfusion. Blood group O is, however, much rarer than the others.

Now, a new research group has tried to transform type A blood into universal blood by removing its own antigens using enzymes present in particular bacteria living in the human intestine.

These bacteria usually attach themselves to the internal walls of the intestine to feed on mucinae, particular substances coated with sugars and proteins. These sugars are very similar to those that differentiate blood groups.

Based on this knowledge, the research group of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, has cut pieces of DNA of the intestinal bacterium in question, the Flavonifractor plautii, performing laboratory tests to understand the feasibility of induced removal of these sugars.

The researchers were successful: the enzymes of the bacteria also performed their work in human blood. These results are very promising in relation to the possibility of creating universal blood from major blood groups, although much more work and research is needed to safely remove all antigens.