Cloning the Genes for A and B Blood Types

By Cowen, Ron | Science News, May 19, 1990 | Go to article overview

Cloning the Genes for A and B Blood Types


Cowen, Ron, Science News


Cloning the genes for A and B blood types

Amid the fast-breaking findings in molecular biology, the identification of a couple more human genes may seem almost commonplace. But this time researchers have gone against type, cloning the genes that determine two major blood groups, A and B. Moreover, by inserting the cloned genes into type O blood cells -- which have no major blood-type markers, or antigens, of their own -- the scientists then induced these cells to produce the A and B antigens on their surfaces.

The new findings may eventually offer a method for altering the blood type of individuals, and may someday help blood bank technicians direct stored precursor blood cells to differentiate into a specific blood cell type. More immediately, the work may provide a tool for examining in unprecedented detail the parental contributions to each person's blood type, enabling forensic experts, for example, to more closely tie a suspect to the scene of a crime. In addition, says Sen-itiroh Hakomori of the the University of Washington in Seattle and the affiliated Biomembrane Institute, the findings suggest a new technique for combating certain cancers.

Hakomori and his colleagues analyzed the genes associated with the A and B antigens in blood cell lines belonging to the three major blood groups, A, B and O. The team reports in the May 17 NATURE that A and B genes differ by only four nucleotides -- the building blocks of DNA and RNA -- suggesting they may have been identical until several million years ago. The researchers also solved a long-standing mystery about the O gene, discovering that the gene's inability to produce antigen stems from the lack of a single nucleotide present in the A and B genes. The missing nucleotide causes the O gene to make a protein incapable of marking the cell with an A or B antigen, Hakomori notes. …

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