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This Gut Enzyme Can Change Blood Cells Into The Universal Donor Blood Type

Aug 23, 2018 01:26 AM EDT
Acquiring the blood donations is a challenge, especially since there's a limited number of people in the world with the universal donor blood type. Now, scientists figure out a way to turn the other blood cells into the much-needed O-type.
(Photo : Sabin Urcelay | Pixabay)

Blood supply has constantly been a huge public health issue, but scientists may have found a way to address the need.

When natural disasters or other emergencies arise, the need for O-type blood is the most pressing. This is because this blood type can be universally administered and accepted. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of O-type blood donors.

Now, scientists bridge the gap between blood type needs and donors' blood type by discovering an enzyme that can transform type A and B blood into O.

Blood Types

As a video from the American Chemical Society explains, type A and B blood cells have specific sugars attached outside their cells called antigens, while type AB blood cells have both type A and B antigens. If the antigens injected into an individual doesn't match the antigens already in the body, the immune system attacks and kills the cells — rendering the donated blood useless and even harmful.

O-type blood has no antigens attached to it, which is why it can be donated to anyone without adverse effects.

The research, which will be presented during the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society on Thursday, Aug. 23, identifies an enzyme from the human gut that can transform any type of blood into O.

Finding The Right Enzyme

Scientists have been exploring the possibility of turning blood into the universal blood type, but the challenge has been looking for an accessible enzyme that can do the job well, according to Stephen Withers, Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.

Withers collaborated with his colleague at UBC to use metagenomics in his search for the enzyme, Eurekalert reports. The method of directly studying genetic material from environmental samples allowed the researchers access to millions of microorganisms without individual cultures.

"With metagenomics, you take all of the organisms from an environment and extract the sum total DNA of those organisms all mixed up together," Withers explains in a statement. "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."

E.coli was used to select for DNA with genes that code for enzymes that split sugar residues.

The search led them to an enzyme in the human gut microbiome that bacteria use to snatch sugar off mucins lining the gut wall. This specific enzyme has been found to be 30 times more effective in removing antigens from the blood cells than all of the other enzyme options.

Withers is already planning his next steps, which include validating the enzymes and conducting clinical trials. The team, he says, is very optimistic on the potential of their enzyme candidate.

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