UBC researchers have found a way to use an enzyme to turn different blood types into the universal Type O. 

The discovery could help deal with blood shortages around the world.

"It's a step towards showing that these approaches are feasible," said Steve Withers, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at UBC. 

"If there's an A type [blood] person that needs a blood transfusion but there's no A-type blood around or no O-type blood around, they could potentially take some B-type blood treat it with this enzyme and convert it to O-type blood and it would be ready." 

The enzyme Withers is referring to cuts off the sugars in the A and B-type blood, making it more like the universal Type O blood. 

"We produced a mutant enzyme that is very efficient at cutting off the sugars in A and B blood, and is much more proficient at removing the subtypes of the A-antigen that the parent enzyme struggles with," said David Kwan, the lead author of the study.

"The concept is not new but until now we needed so much of the enzyme to make it work that it was impractical," said Withers. "Now I'm confident that we can take this a whole lot further."

To create the mutant enzyme, the researchers used a process called directed evolution, which involves inserting mutations into the gene for the enzyme and then selecting the most effective mutations. In five generations the enzyme became 170 times more effective.

Withers said more research and clinical trials are needed so real world applications for the discovery are still five to 10 years away.