Researchers have demonstrated a method to convert other blood types into the universal Type O, opening the door to a vast increase of the limited supply of appropriate blood for transfusions, according to ScienceAlert.

Blood types vary between categories including A, AB, B, and O, as well as rarer ones.

These variations indicate the type of sugar found on the surface of red blood cells in the body. Types and A and B each include different types of sugars, AB has both types, and O has no sugars at all. The body’s immune system rejects blood with sugars that aren’t their own. The immune system of a patient with Type A blood would attack and kill blood cells from a Type B donor, and vice versa.

These compatibility issues make it much more difficult to find donor blood for transfusions, and last year, the American Red Cross declared an emergency shortage.

But Type O, with no sugars at all, is universally acceptable.

Last August, University of British Columbia researchers presented findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, which may allow other donor blood types to be converted into Type O. This week, they published their research in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Researchers had already suggested that enzymes could potentially remove sugars from A, B, and AB blood types. But they hadn’t found an enzyme that could accomplish the task safely and effectively.

The lining of the human digestive tract contains the same sugars as those found in A, B, and AB blood types, and bacterial enzymes in feces remove them from the lining to drive the digestion process. Knowing this, the team isolated one of the enzymes that removes the sugars from A and B blood types.

They ultimately found that it converted these blood types into Type O with 30 times the efficiency of enzymes used in earlier research.

The team will now double-check its findings and test the process in a clinical setting.

In an article accompanying the research, lead author and postdoctoral researcherPeter Rahfeld wrote:

“In recent years the research community has started to realize the importance of the human microbiome in the context of human health. However, it may prove to be even more important since the microorganisms within us also harbor enzyme activities we do not even know about yet. I am keen to see what kind of other activities will be discovered within the human gut microbiome in the future.”

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