To identify the enzymes, Withers collaborated with a colleague who uses metagenomics to study ecology. Using type O negative blood in transfusions doesn't lead to risky reactions in the patient.
The researchers started by looking for enzymes that can help them achieve their goals. Type A has one type of sugar and Type B has another; Type AB has both sugars.
After considering sampling DNA from organisms that degrade blood - like mosquitoes and leeches, the team realized that they could find the best candidate in the human gut microbiome.
Nurses attend blood donors on beds during session at NHS National Blood Service collection centre.
Live Science reports the most popular blood type in the United States is Type O-positive at 38%, followed by 34% of people having A-positive, 9% B-positive, 7% O-negative, 6% A-negative, 3% AB-positive, 2% B-negative, and finally 1% AB-negative.
Mucins provide sugar residues that gut bacteria attach to and some of the mucin sugars resemble the structure of antigens on type A and B blood. The Red Cross had to call for blood donations this January after the raging storms and the universal O type blood was in great need. Withers' team assessed the enzyme through a process called metagenomics.
The scientists discovered a whole group of enzymes in the bacteria in the human gut that are capable of extracting the sugars from the proteins that make up the lining of the intestinal walls.
"It just becomes another step and another cost", Ziman said.
Experts from the American chemical society was able to identify enzymes that can efficiently convert the second and third group of blood in the first.
Type O blood is especially important because it can be accepted by nearly all bodies, making it valuable for blood transfusions. This reason alone makes Type O blood a highly in demand blood type during emergencies, especially when there's limited time to test the patient's blood type to ensure it matches those of the donor's.
Previous research has uncovered a similar process for type-B blood, but Withers said making this work with type-A blood was much more important, given how common the blood type is. "We are hopeful that technology can support in alleviating numerous issues around blood shortages faced by blood collection centers such as Red Cross and others to meet patient needs".
Expanding global blood supply is critical in light of growing populations and the frequency of natural disasters, Withers agreed.