Scientists say a certain bacterial enzyme may be able to reliably convert any type of blood into type O, a valuable discovery which could alleviate the global blood shortage by producing more of the type that is almost universally compatible.
Now, as Live Science points out, scientists have managed to locate a gut enzyme that is capable of eating the A and B type antigens, or sugars, making it possible to, effectively, strip the blood type away so that it becomes, in effect, an O negative blood type.
People have one out of four blood types - A, B, AB, and O. Because of this, doctors have limitations in transfusing blood to patients, especially considering how people's blood types vary across the world.
To figure out which enzymes would be the best candidate, Dr Withers and his colleague at UBC employed a technique called metagenomics, which is the study of genetic material of microbial communities present in environmental samples. Instead of culturing microbe after microbe in a painstaking process, the research team simply extracted DNA from all the microorganisms found in the human gut. Type A has A antigens, type B has B antigens and type AB has both.
O-type blood has no antigens attached to it, which is why it can be donated to anyone without adverse effects.
After looking at millions of micro-organisms, the researchers determined that the environment in which the desired enzymes might be found is the mucosal lining of the human gut, which contains sugars similar in structure to blood antigens.
"That's always been the biggest challenge", lead study author Stephen Withers, a biochemist at the University of British Columbia, told reporters today (Aug. 21) at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Boston.
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.
"If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood", he explained in a statement. Withers' team assessed the enzyme through a process called metagenomics.
"The next step is very much all about safety", he said.
In laboratory tests, the enzymes were able to completely convert blood type A to O.
Time is consumed testing the patient's type in order to save his life.
"You could see this being put into the bag at the time of collection, just sitting there doing its job", Withers said during the press conference.
While it would be unnecessary to modify all non-O blood units, Devine said the technology will be important in settings where there are anticipated shortages of group O, including Canadian summers marked by increased motor vehicle accidents, as well as hurricane season in the Caribbean and troop deployments to combat zones. "Our hope is that one day we can eventually render any type of donated blood, tissues or organs, safe for use by anyone regardless of their native blood type".