“Blood. Sometimes it sets my teeth on edge; other times it helps me control the chaos.”
Tonight’s the night. I’ve been told I look just like Michael C. Hall, and it’s going to happen again and again. Has to happen.
Okay, okay. Enough with the Dexter references for now. But while I’m thinking of blood, let me splatter this news across the page.
Everybody knows about the standard ABO lettering system for blood type, as well as the Rhesus blood group system (aka positive or negative type). But while most people only pay attention to the two, experts like Dex and Bryan Ballif of the University of Vermont make it their business to be meta-aware when it comes to the crimson coagulate, and now two more types have been discovered – Langereis and Junior.
Ballif and his cohorts unveiled novel proteins ABCB6 and ABCG2, extending the total of known blood types to 32. Most types are obscure and localized to highly specific areas of the globe; they too carry unique names, like Dombrock, Duffy, Diego, even Lutheran. Scientists had inklings that other types existed on the basis of failed transplantations and blood transfusions; it had long been thought that many Japanese are Langereis and Junior negative, but the types’ existence had yet to be proven.
Here’s how the discovery was made. Your body recognizes its own blood by presence or lack of antigens on the surface of red blood cells (RBCs), the donut-shaped components of blood that carry oxygen to your tissues. Antigens are markers that serve as forms of identification, in this case allowing RBCs into your bloodstream; antigens can be proteins, carbohydrates, fats, or sugars. Ballif’s team used mass spectroscopy to separate protein antigens by weight, and their results preliminarily identified two that were different than the rest. Then, they engineered complementary antibodies, Y-shaped proteins that have an exact match, like a lock with a specific key. Sure enough, the two antibodies matched only with the two proteins, ensuring the uniqueness of their discovery. Finally, to prove these were proteins responsible for different blood types, samples were sent to Paris for gene sequencing. Turns out, people who were Langereis or Junior negative had corresponding mutations in their DNA.
Their work, published in Nature Genetics, proved to be the first new blood-type discovery in decades. Alas, the worst thing about finally putting together a puzzle is finding there are missing pieces – Langereis and Junior may be linked to drug-resistant forms of cancer. What’s more, Ballif estimates there are at least 10-15 more types left to be discovered, giving his team ample opportunity to hone their craft. Viva Vermont.
At the end of the day, we’re all a bit like Dexter – born in blood. So next time you’re figuring out the type on your own slide, thank Dr. Ballif – and SickScience.
Images from: bayharborbutcher.wordpress.com; uvm.edu; sciencedaily.com