Scientists: Bacteria from the intestines will help to create a universal blood

Using this knowledge, the researchers were able to isolate an enzyme that strips the sugars from A and B blood types, transforming them into Type O 30 times more efficiently than any previously discovered enzyme. "We have been particularly interested in enzymes that allow us to remove the A or B antigens from red blood cells", said UBC biochemist Stephen Withers in a statement on the study.

The research team made a decision to look for enzymes that might be able to do the job using something called "metagenomics" to analyse the genes of multiple kinds of organisms.

Withers and his colleagues-UBC microbiologist Steven Hallam and pathologist Jay Kizhakkedathu of the Centre for Blood Research at UBC-are applying for a patent on the new enzymes and are hoping to test them on a larger scale in the future, in preparation for clinical testing. This led his team to look for the enzyme in the human gut. Type A has A antigens, type B has B antigens and type AB has both.

He considered analysing mosquitoes and leeches, which naturally degrade blood, but ultimately found good candidates in the enzymes of bacteria that live in the human gut and that aid in digestion.

But O-blood, specifically O-negative, are the universal donors because they lack A and B antigens. That's important, because those sugars, or antigens, can cause devastating immune reactions if introduced into the body of someone without that particular blood type.

At a conference in Boston, Massachusetts, this week, a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia explained how they were able to use enzymes found in bacteria in the human digestive system to remove markers, called antigens, from A, B and AB blood, thereby turning it into type O blood. "If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood", stated Dr. Withers. "This would decrease the need for those calls because if they had spare A or B or whatever blood around, they could convert that to O and give that to anybody".

The paper "Discovery of CAZYmes for cell surface glycan removal through metagenomics: Towards universal blood" will be presented today, Tuesday 21st August, at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Type O blood is especially important because it can be accepted by nearly all bodies, making it valuable for blood transfusions.

With this new process, blood taken straight from donors could be quickly converted into type O negative, without much delay.

The American Red Cross states that there are very specific ways in which blood must be donated to ensure safety.

"Scientists have pursued the idea of adjusting donated blood to a common type for a while, but they have yet to find efficient, selective enzymes that are also safe and economical", he added.

"Hopefully what it would do is loosen up the blood supply, in a sense: make it more broadly available", Withers said.

  • Santos West