My writing assignments for Medscape Medical News tend to be formulaic: summarize the findings of an interesting new paper, enabling busy health care professionals to stay on top of the literature. I knew immediately the importance of an assignment from a few weeks ago – a team from the University of British Columbia had found a way to convert type A blood to type O. The report, in Nature Microbiology, details how they commandeered a pair of enzymes from a human gut bacterium.
Type O blood is the "universal donor." An individual of any ABO blood type can receive it without suffering a rejection reaction, until supplies of the matched type become available. That's because the surfaces of red blood cells (RBCs) that are type O lack certain glycoprotein molecules that festoon cells of types A, B, or AB.
Because more people have type O blood (45%), finding a way to make more of it could help address the ongoing shortage of human blood. The American Red Cross recently began offering gift cards to entice type O donors, warning that unless supplies extend from 2-days to 5-days, some emergency departments will be without blood and some types of surgeries delayed.
I guessed that the researchers had found some way to denude types A, B, or AB RBCs – shake them, zap them, bathe them in enzymes – but I didn't imagine that beaver dams would be an inspiration. My Medscape article had only a sentence on the beaver connection, so I thought I'd elaborate here at DNA Science, where inquiring minds gravitate to the weird.
To continue reading, go to my blog DNA Science, at Public Library of Science.