By Sy Mukherjee
August 22, 2018

Happy hump day, readers—This is Sy.

Every now and then—including, and even especially, around times of catastrophic medical emergencies—the nation’s hospitals undergo a blood shortage. Our bodies’ very life fuel may not be available for those who need it most, whether because of a horrific accident, act of terror, or natural disaster.

But what if we could create the most universal form of blood through a little tweak of biology that employs the micro-critters residing in our own guts?

That’s the tantalizing question raised by a new study presented this week at the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Boston. Led by University of British Columbia (UBC) scientists, the researchers say that certain bacteria in the human gut could potentially be used to transform blood types A and B into the more universal form of blood type O. “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. “If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood.”

(At this juncture, it’s important to note that the research is quite preliminary, and needs to be thoroughly tested on a wider scale before coming to any overhyped conclusions.)

But if it’s a sustainable technique, the implications are multifold—especially given the nature of the technique itself, which involves lopping off certain antigens (which are, in essence, simple sugars) from particular red blood cells. The question is whether it can be used on a wide-scale in a safe and efficient manner to create larger blood supplies in times of need.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


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