Scientists Used Gut Enzymes to Turn A and B Type Blood into the Universal O Type

Every year, medical emergencies end up facing terrible news: the nation’s blood supply is very low. The Red Cross had to call for blood donations this January after the raging storms and the universal O type blood was in great need. As O negative blood is regarded as the safest blood type to use for transfusions as it does not have A, B, or Rh antigens, those who have an O negative blood type are encouraged to donate blood and save a life. If you don’t know your blood type, you’ll find out when you donate blood or you can ask your doctor to order a blood type test.

Researchers say they can make universal blood by using enzymes from the human gut and turn type A and B blood into O. They presented their study at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Stephen Withers, Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia collaborated with his colleague at the university who uses metagenomics to study ecology, explaining that he needed the method for his study:

“With metagenomics, you take all of the organisms from an environment and extract the sum total DNA of those organisms all mixed up together,” so he was able to determine the best candidate.

He added that their main goal was to find “enzymes that allow us to remove the A or B antigens from red blood cells. If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood.”

Withers explained that scientists have been looking for a safe and economical way to find efficient enzymes that can adjust the donated blood to a universal type.

At first, Withers’ team had to sample millions of microorganisms and see which enzymes can remove sugar residues. He used metagenomics to discover biocatalysts:

“This is a way of getting that genetic information out of the environment and into the laboratory setting and then screening for the activity we are interested in.”

After considering sampling DNA from organisms that degrade blood – like mosquitoes and leeches, the team realized that they could find the best candidate in the human gut microbiome.

A Very Promising Result – Waiting for Clinical Trials

The mucins that line the wall of the gut, known as glycosylated proteins feed the gut bacteria with sugars while the bacteria helps with digestion. Some of these sugars have the same structure as the antigens on A- and B-type blood.

The team focused on the bacteria that feeds on the sugars produced by mucin and discovered that this family of enzymes is 30 times more effective at removing the red blood cell antigens than the candidates previously discovered.

The next step for Withers and his colleagues at the Centre for Blood Research at UBC is to see is the enzymes are validated and can be used in large scale in clinical testing. He concludes that they “have a very interesting candidate to adjust donated blood to a common type,” adding that their new powerful enzyme “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.”