Just how old is the AB blood type?

Kelly Kearse writes:

While watching the Orioles go down in flames this evening, I wrote a posting about the origin of the AB blood type . . . .

He attached it and here it is:

Just how old is the AB blood type?

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In response to an earlier posting on the upcoming BTST meeting, there has been much discussion about when the AB blood type first appeared in history. AB blood type has been reported in skeletal remains that are approximately 1,600-2,000 years old (Am. J. Phys. Anthrop. 47: 89-91, 1977), and in tissues of mummies from 3 B.C. to 4th century (Forensic Science International, 43: 113-124, 1989). These studies were done using serological methods (antibodies), which recognize the ABO molecules on the surfaces of blood cells (see Figure below). As ABO antigens are also found in many organisms including bacteria, fungi, and insects, the issue of “false positives” is often mentioned when discussing blood typing of ancient samples (see “Blood on the Shroud of Turin: An Immunological Review, available on shroud.com, for a detailed discussion).

An alternative method for blood typing exists, which involves molecular biology (DNA) techniques to probe for the genes responsible for conferring ABO blood type. Because human red blood cells (RBCs) lack a nucleus, this method evaluates gene expression in white blood
cells (WBCs), or other nucleated cell types (see Figure below). In this technique, which uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify DNA, possible issues with false positives due to bacteria are circumvented because it is the (internal) gene responsible for encoding the surface antigens that is being evaluated. Unlike the surface antigens which may be similar in humans & bacteria, human ABO genes are easily distinguished from DNA of other organisms. While this may seem like the method of choice for analyzing ancient samples, such studies are often precluded because of DNA degradation issues. Indeed, for typing studies of aged bloodstains, more reports exist in the literature using serological (surface) analysis relative to molecular (DNA) analysis.clip_image006

Within the past couple of years, I have written to numerous scientists who specialize in the fields of anthropological and molecular evolution (my research background is in cell biology & immunology) to inquire about the origins & appearance of the AB blood type. Specifically, I asked what is the first human or human-related sample that has typed as AB using molecular biology (DNA) methods; and when is the AB blood type believed to have emerged in human history? The consensus from the answers I received is represented in several specific responses quoted below, “ABO systems have not been widely analyzed in ancient remains [using molecular biology techniques], there are very few papers on the blood system.” “There certainly is controversy as to when group B (and thus AB people) emerged.” A specialist at Harvard replied, “It is CERTAINLY [his caps, not mine] well before 10,000 years ago”, “some place the origin of B @ 100,000 years ago.” “I am very sure it was long before 1,000 years ago-based on DNA divergence from the primordial group A gene”. One of the world’s foremost authorities on the molecular analysis of the ABO blood group, whose laboratory first cloned the human ABO genes, was quite adamant in his response that D’Adamo’s claims that the AB blood type is only 1,000 years old “does not fit with the current theory of the evolution of the ABO gene”…and “is not based on scientific evidence”.

In the literature, the few samples that have been analyzed (by molecular DNA techniques) are reported as O; for example, 2 Neanderthals analyzed by Lalueza-Fox in 2008, and Otzi the 5,300 year old “ice man”. In the current population, ~44% of people are type O, compared to ~5% for type AB (A and B are 35% and 17%, respectively). Thus, perhaps it is not that surprising with such a very limited amount of DNA studies reported, type O would be more prevalent. Clearly, much more work remains to be done in this particular area, especially in relation to molecular analysis of aged samples.

8 thoughts on “Just how old is the AB blood type?”

  1. Thanks for this, Kelly. From what little searching on the web I’ve managed to do, there certainly seems to be a great vacuum in our understanding of the evolution of human blood types, and there are several conflicting “authorities(??)”. One apparently reputable site asserted that human AB was only as recent as 1500 AD, which I think can be dismissed. At the other end of the spectrum, I came across a highly technical study “Evolution of Primate ABO Blood Group Genes and Their Homologous Genes”, Naruya Saitou and Fumi-ichiro Yamamoto;

    Click to access 399.full.pdf

    The authors examined the blood typing in gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan. I have no way of knowing how authoritative the paper is, and the paper can only be comprehended by specialists, with much being made of phylogenetic tree theory. From their Table 5, I surmise that A is dominant in chimpanzee, B in gorilla, and AB does seem to occur in orangutan, baboon. gibbon and Java macaque. However the paper can only be interpreted by a specialist in such studies.
    In an earlier posting, I noted that there were significant AB occurring in such widely separated peoples as: Ainu, Kamluk, Bombay Hindu, New Guinea Papuan, and so on. North and South American indian populations seemed to be higly dominant in O only, as also are Australian aborigine and NZ Maori.
    It’s clearly an area where much more work needs to be done.

    1. Thanks,Kelly. This is useful. I shall follow up these articles when I am next in the Cambridge University Library. It is a pity that the author does not cite where these skeletal remains and mummies came from but no doubt the articles will make this clear. It is also a pity that the most recent of these articles is already 23 years old and we have had immense advances in the study of DNA since then!! As I understand it some EGYPTIAN mummies which were once thought to be AB have now been reclassified as A following more sophisticated analysis. I wonder whether these are the ‘mummies’ referred to in these dated articles.
      It is not clear in the second part of the article what we are referring to. If we are talking just about the emergence B blood groupings then most accounts accept that they emerged many thousands of years ago. No problem there, It seems as of the Harvard specialist is referring just to the emergence of B. But it is not clear from this when the mingling of B with A took place to produce AB in the regions closest to Galilee. That is the question we are after. Most accounts assume that it was very much later than the first century AD even though the evidence does suggest that the date of AD 1500 for the emergence of AB is too late- AD 900 and ‘a thousand years ago’ seem more readily quoted with ,as I cited in an earlier posting, the Hungarian plains the most likely place of the mingling of As and Bs as this is where the highest percentage of ABs in Europe are to be found. I am still waiting for my Hungarian medical friend to respond as I assume that the references to the research are in Hungarian. Perhaps he will be able to provide an English summary. ( He was a prominent surgeon until he retired so he should be able to give us some accurate material if he can find it.)
      There is the separate question of when the AB grouping first emerged in other areas in India and the far East where A and B groupings also mingled. i can’t find any research on this. I assume that technically speaking AB can emerge wherever there is sexual contact between As and Bs although there would presumably have to be quite a number of contacts before you get an embedded AB population which can sustain itself.
      I look forward to more expert input.

  2. First, the Orioles are eliminated. Now Jeter is out for the entire post-season. What does this mean? It means I have time to write a more proper response. Charles & daveb, thank you for your comments. This is somewhat lengthy; you may wish to grab a cup of tea, or something even stronger.

    First, regarding where the skeletal remains and mummies came from, the title of the 1st article is “ABO typing of ancient skeletons from Israel” (should be one of the first hits on a search engine, may or may not have an accessible link). Specifically in this study, the skeletal remains were from the Jerusalem and En Gedi region; of 55 skeletons that were examined, 30.91% were A, 14.54% were B, 50.91% were AB, and 3.64% were O. Similarly, the title of the 2nd article, is “ABO tissue antigens of Egyptian mummies” (should also pop up using a search engine). Specifically, 14 Egyptian mummies were examined dating from the Roman period.

    The reclassified Egyptian mummies may involve samples in the 2nd study, that is certainly possible. This particular study used three different serological methods to evaluate ABO expression in various tissue samples. Of the 14 mummies studied, only half of them gave concordant typing results (samples taken from different areas such as bone, skin, hair, muscle gave the same result). Of these 7 that were concordant, 3 were A, 2 were B, 1 was O, and 1 was AB. The remaining 7 gave mixed results, 5 of the 7 were AB? B?, AB?, A?, or AB?, O?. True, this reference “is already 23 years old and we have had immense advances in the study of DNA since then!!”, but these particular studies specifically involve serological methods, which evaluate molecules on the surfaces of red blood cells, not DNA (see Figure in previous post). It is possible that even “dated” articles contain sound science; of course, it is also reasonable that such results be confirmed and extended using more modern methods. To quote from a recent review article on blood typing of the Shroud (available at shroud.com), “Clearly, serological analysis is most useful when corroborated by additional experimentation, especially molecular (DNA) analysis of blood group genes”. I am in total agreement with you.

    I have by no means done an exhaustive search, but there does appear to be a noticeable paucity in the studies of ABO blood type of ancient remains in more recent years. As previously mentioned, DNA degradation may preclude confident analysis in certain cases. If DNA sequencing is a viable option, there are many other regions in the genome (besides ABO) that may prove much more tantalizing and informative to investigators that are interested in hereditary relationships and molecular evolution. Together, these two may (at least partly) account for the relative small number of studies that have been done with more modern molecular biology (DNA) techniques.

    Regarding the 2nd part of the article, as I’m sure you are aware there is controversy about when the various blood types first emerged, much of which has been fueled by D’Adamo’s promotion of the blood group diet theory. To bypass speculation, etc. and cut to the chase, that is specifically why I phrased the e-mail question I sent out to various investigators the way that I did. I was interested in knowing, point blank, the empirical evidence for the first (earliest) known AB individual(s) in human history. (I did not feel comfortable citing their names attached to particular quotes without specifically asking their permission; I received more responses than listed, but those quoted were entirely representative). I specifically stuck to molecular (DNA) analysis to complement previous studies that were done by serology. Given that relatively few (DNA) studies have been done on very ancient samples, many of the responses were heavy on the origin and appearance of ABO genes throughout human (and human-related development). Please allow me to comment on this a bit further.

    In the blood diet theory, the suggestion is that O is the original blood type, then blood type A, then blood type B, followed most recently by AB. Structurally, this may make some sense, as type O is a core structure to which A and B carbohydrates are added on. (Individuals contain an A enzyme or a B enzyme, AB individuals contain both, one on each chromosome; those that lack an A or B enzyme are type O). When you examine the DNA region that encodes such enzymes, the theory begins to crack (significantly). Studies at the DNA level that look at the specific sequences in this region in humans and human-related primates indicate that the most ancient version of the ABO gene is A (not O). This is based on DNA sequencing and assignment of relationships among similar species. The next blood type that appears by human lineage is B, followed by O (estimated by most evolutionary biologists approximately 1.5 million years after the appearance of B). Type O blood results from a deletion within the A/B region, it makes absolutely no sense at all from a molecular standpoint that O would have come first. Similarly, from a molecular standpoint of the DNA sequence, A must have preceded B (A and B differ by only a few variations in sequence, only 4 amino acids at the protein level). Interestingly, recent studies suggest that A may have at one time been lost in the human lineage, then “resurrected” [check the Abstract-their words, not mine!!] by a recombination between B and O less than 300,000 years ago (Kitano, et al., Mol. Bio. Evol., Jan. 27, 2012).

    The AB blood type does not occur without first having both A and B types in existence. B is thought to have arisen from A through mutation and selection. Those B individuals would be within the A population, surely some of them would have met, and things would have progressed… The selective pressures making AB an advantage/disadvantage (disease susceptibility, etc.) throughout human development, who knows? There are a lot of unknowns. Intangibles aside, theories involving isolation of A and B populations until 1,000 or so years ago, based on the incorrect order of ABO genes during human development seem a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Certainly, science seems to indicate that the potential for AB being present much earlier than food diet theories would suggest is more than reasonable.

    Thanks again to both of you for your helpful comments.

  3. Charles Freeman :
    There is the separate question of when the AB grouping first emerged in other areas in India and the far East where A and B groupings also mingled. i can’t find any research on this.

    Charles, in this recent paper (*) it seems clear that in Korea, by 15th century, AB group was already present.

    (*) Na Young Kim • Hwan Young Lee •Myung Jin Park • Woo Ick Yang • Kyoung-Jin Shin, 2011.
    A genetic investigation of Korean mummies from the Joseon Dynasty.Mol Biol Rep (2011) 38:115–121 DOI 10.1007/s11033-010-0084-4

  4. Thanks, Kelly. I will contribute anything I find from Hungary. It seems strange that that significant AB finding from israel has not been followed up since 1977. There must be some further work done by someone somewhere.
    Thanks, Gabriel for the for the Korean evidence.

  5. We were all created with type AB blood, with normal viscosity/balanced pH level with normal protein structures. Through a misinformation campaign the official history is that blood type AB is the newest and rarest, emerging 500-1000 years ago, while blood type O is the oldest. It is interesting to note that the Shroud of Turin, the suspected burial cloth of Jesus, has blood type AB. The cloth has been dated to about the first century AD, and as of yet has not been disproved. The truth is, blood type AB has always existed. The other mutated blood types appeared on a mass scale about 500 years ago when the poisoning began.

  6. Vojnet. ‘We were all created with type AB blood -the truth is that blood type AB has always existed.’ Please give your source. ( I assume that you accept that there is an AB blood grouping that is completely distinct from A, B and O- if not please explain.)
    ‘Misinformation campaign’. Please give details of this campaign, where it originated and why anyone should have launched it. Most of the evidence for the emergence of AB c. 900 AD seems to have come from Hungarian burials. Did the Hungarians have a special reason for a misinformation campaign?
    ‘The cloth has been dated to about the first century AD’. No accepted dating to the first century has yet been achieved. Even Fanti’s latest attempt is only an averaging of two different results neither of which was first century AD and his samples are of dubious origin. He cannot be taken seriously until the source of his samples are known more clearly, his results are replicated elsewhere and his ‘averaging’ methods approved by other scientists.
    .’..500 years ago when the poisoning began’. Are you saying that the only blood group known before 1500 was AB?- does the archaeological evidence from pre- 1500 burials support this view?
    Please explain what you mean by ‘poisoning’.
    Thanks, your answers may help take the debate forward.

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