Scientists claim they may have identified gut bacteria that could convert blood types A and B into type O.
People with type O-negative blood are known as universal donors, meaning they can give to anyone with any blood type.
This is why people with this blood type are always in high demand in medical emergencies and natural disasters.
But with only 6.6 percent of the US population carrying O-negative blood – and less than 10 percent of all Americans donating – blood banks are often in short supply.
Researchers, from the University in British Columbia in Canada, however, say they’ve discovered an enzyme found in the human gut that could covert other blood types in type O – potentially putting an end to the massive blood shortage.
Scientists have announced that they’ve discovered an enzyme found in the human gut that could covert other blood types in type O – potentially putting an end to the massive blood shortage (file image of blood donation)
There are four major blood groups: A, B, O, and AB. Just like your hair color or eye color, your blood type is inherited from your parents.
They are each discerned by sugars known as antigens, which cause your immune system to produce antibodies.
In each group, there is a protein called the Rh factor, which is either positive or negative, resulting in eight blood types.
The American Red Cross states that there are very specific ways in which blood must be donated to ensure safety.
If someone with type A blood is given type B blood, their antigens will attack the new blood cells and cause an incompatibility reaction resulting in fever, chills, muscle aches and nausea.
People with Type AB blood carry both the A antigen and B antigen, meaning they can only give to other AB types, but are universal recipients.
Those with A and B blood types only carry one antigen, meaning they can only give to people with a similar blood type.
But O-blood, specifically O-negative, are the universal donors because they lack A and B antigens.
For this reason, Dr Stephen Withers, a professor in the department of chemistry at the University of British Columbia, says scientists have been trying to find a way to modify altered blood via enzymes.
‘If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood,’ he said.
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.
‘With metagenomics, you take all of the organisms from an environment and extract the sum total DNA of those organisms all mixed up together,’ Dr Withers said.
The team zeroed in on microbes found in the human gut, whose job it is to break down sugars.
From there, the microbes were inserted into strains of E coli to identify the genes that code for enzymes that break down sugar.
The researchers found a candidate in enzymes which remove sugars from mucins, proteins that line the wall of the gut.
Next, they tested the enzymes’ effectiveness at removing the antigens from blood types A and B and found them to be 30 percent more effective than previous enzymes that been tested.
Dr Withers said he wants to test the enzymes on a larger scale so he can begin clinical trials.
‘I am optimistic that we have a very interesting candidate to adjust donated blood to a common type,’ he said.
‘Of course, it 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.’
The researchers presented their findings at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston, Massachusetts, on Tuesday.