5 Ways to Make the ABO Blood Group System Less Confusing

Sana Shujat

The blood flowing through our veins is the same, i.e., red with blood cells, platelets, and plasma. However, the truth is that we all carry different types of blood. The most common blood types include A, B, AB, and O (making the ABO blood group system); now, the question here is what makes these blood types different. 

The answer to the above question is; that antigens present on the surface of red blood cells decide the fate of our blood type, along with genetics. This answer seems quite simple, but it is a challenging concept for teachers to teach and students to understand.  

The antigen and antibodies, two primary components of this topic, get mixed up and are easy to forget. Teachers are always looking for fun ways to teach students the function and difference between antigens and antibodies.

The antigens are only friendly with some specific antibodies and launch an attack against any other antibodies. For instance, the individuals with blood group 'A' have 'A antigens' on the surface of their red blood cells and anti-B antibodies (naturally occurring) in their plasma. This antigen only considers 'A antibodies' friends while taking any other antibody as an intruder. 

Confusing, right? Well, it keeps getting puzzling as we discuss more details like the 'Rh factor or 'Rh antigen.' Since there is a lot to learn about antibodies and blood type incompatibility, let's discuss a few tricks to make it a less burdening topic for students and teachers. 

antibodies wikipedia

ABO blood group system (Image Source)

Why the ABO blood group system can be tricky

Blood type compatibility seems simple, but it is one of the most challenging topics in biology to teach. Students could quickly lose track as the lesson proceeds and the teacher introduces new blood types, antigens, and antibodies. What are the three reasons that make this topic tricky or the trickiest?

1. It's abstract

We teach students how one blood type could not be transfused with the other because of the fierce antigen-antibody interaction. Still, they cannot see it happening as the process takes place inside our body at a molecular level. It is not possible to see this interaction even if we try to mix blood samples from two different individuals. Students need to know the process in action to understand the topic better.

2. It's complicated

Each blood type has different antigens and antibodies. The 'Rh factor' makes the topic even more difficult through a complex recipient/donor compatibility status. Students are bound to get overwhelmed by the donor and recipient relationship of the same blood type. For instance, the blood group AB+ is a universal recipient and can receive blood from all others but can only donate to the 'AB+.' 

3. Repetitive components 

The word antigen and antibody are repeated many times in this topic, while antibodies react differently in every blood type. It perplexes things, and we can't blame students here if they can't get the concept around the first time. 

5 ways to make blood type compatibly - a more approachable topic

We all know this topic is challenging, and getting lost in the maze of antigen-antibody interactions is easy. Well, no need to worry as we introduce five practical ways to make this topic more approachable and less daunting. 

1. Show the people behind the science

Storytelling is an exciting way to make students feel connected with the discoverer. About 120 years ago, people were unaware of the significance of transferring the right blood type or antibodies or blood rejection. They were confused with the deaths as a result of blood transfusion. 

It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that an Austrian scientist, Karl Landsteiner, discovered that some individuals' RBCs are incompatible with others and result in agglutination. He worked hard to understand the agglutination patterns and developed the ABO blood group system. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for his remarkable discovery. 

By 1910 scientists proved how antigens are inherited, but determining a person's blood type was still a mystery. Bernstein in 1924 unraveled this secret with his "three allele model" that helps predict the children's blood phenotype from parental allelic combinations. 

2. Relate it to the real world

It is a beautiful idea to take advantage of the fact that this issue immediately applies to everyday life. Spark the student's interest by asking a simple question like how many of you know your blood type? For instance, if a student has blood type O- make him named universal friend; that would help everyone learn that this blood type is compatible with every other blood type.

There is an ongoing debate in science that the different ABO phenotypes make an individual more susceptible to certain diseases. For instance, group A individuals are more likely to get gastric cancer than other blood types. Remember! It doesn't mean that other blood groups are utterly immune to gastric cancer. Don't you think it's interesting to know how we are more prone to some diseases because of our blood type? Such information would help highlight the significance of this topic, and students will get attentive to learn more. 

Loss of excess blood due to accidents or the body's inability to make enough blood due to some disease requires a blood transfusion from a healthy donor. It is not feasible for anybody to donate their blood to a friend in need. Instead, the blood types must be compatible with each other. Students will get intrigued to learn more as they realize that incompatible blood transfusion could cause death. Also, give a hint the blood type of the donor and recipient must also match in organ transplants.

3. Seeing is believing

The antibodies attack the antigens present on the cell surface leading to cell death/lysis is a difficult statement for students to understand. Visual representations of the process, like the GIF below, put meaning to these words. 

Making the topic visually dynamic changes the learning process for teachers and students. Students can't understand this complex game of blood group compatibility with theory only. Now that they've seen how mismatched antibody-antigen react with each other, they believe in the significance of transfusing correct blood types. 

Antibodies 3

4. Make it stick with word-play

Visual graphics and simulation make it easier and fun to understand a particular process, but students need to memorize certain things for exams. Understanding the meaning of each term helps with learning. Following are the ways to back up essential terms in the concepts and make them memorable for the students.

Antigens- The first part, 'anti,' represents the word antibodies, and the second part, 'gen,' means the word generating. It would help students understand that antigens are responsible for developing specific antibodies. 

Antigen-Antibody interaction: The antigens and antibodies are always opposite to each other for instance, A antigen would produce B antibodies. The literal meaning of the word "anti" is "opposite." 

O blood group: The letter "O" is taken from the German word "Ohne," which means "without," making it easy to remember that cells in this blood type have no antigen. 

Rh factor: It was first discovered in Rhesus monkeys hence named after a monkey, and determines whether your blood type is positive or negative. 

Hemolysis: This word could be split into two parts, "hemo" and "lysis," meaning "blood" and "breakage," respectively, representing cell death that occurs due to incompatible blood transfusion. 

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual laboratory simulation is a great way to teach ABO blood group compatibility. At Labster, we're dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Antibodies: Why are some blood types incompatible? Virtual Lab simulation GIF

Check out Antibodies: Why are some blood types incompatible? Virtual Lab simulation at Labster. This simulation examines blood samples from a mother and her unborn child to determine whether or not they are compatible.

Get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.





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