Monday, 6 February 2012

Why The Basque People Should Stay Positive

I mentioned the Rhesus blood groups in my last post. Most people have heard of the ABO blood groups but the Rhesus blood groups are less well known about. Being Rhesus positive relates to the presence of the D antigen on one’s red blood cells. If you don’t have it, you are Rhesus negative.

The name is derived from the Rhesus macaque – a small species of monkey that was used in the early experiments by Karl Landsteiner and Alexander Weiner. They identified the Rhesus blood groups way back in the 1940s. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than just having or not having the D antigen on your red blood cells. These things never are that straight forward.

It turns out that as well as being important when receiving a blood transfusion, it also plays its part in Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn. If a Rhesus negative mother is carrying a Rhesus positive fetus, there is a risk that the incompatibility can cause the child to be born with the disease. Those most at risk are the Basque people of northern Spain, who are more likely to be Rhesus negative than people elsewhere in the world.

Well, fancy that!

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