Google Doodle celebrates Karl Landsteiner’s 148th birthday

If you remember your first-year biology or genetics, you may also recall the name “Landsteiner,” for it was Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) who discovered the famous A, B, and O blood groups. And, in much of the world today—but not in the U.S.—Google is celebrating his 148th birthday with this Doodle:


These four blood groups represent combinations of three alleles, an A, a B, and an O allele (the A blood type is AA or AO, the B blood type is BB or BO, the AB blood type is AB, and the O blood type is the double recessive OO). The genetics were not worked out by Landsteiner, nor did he know that the alleles code for antigens: glycoproteins on the surface of the red blood cell. A has one antigen, B another, and O has neither. That means that ABs are the “universal recipients”, since they don’t produce antibodies to the A and B alleles, and can get anybody’s blood, while Os are the “universal donors”, since they express no antigens at all and don’t stimulate the immune system to reject the donor blood. If you’re an O, like I am, your blood is the most useful of all four types. But if you have the additional “negative” Rh type, you’re even more useful (I’m O positive), because there’s incompatibility of Rh types, too. Know your blood type, and put it in your passport and in your wallet.  The rules above are a guideline, as there can still be some incompatibility, so doctors often do a cross-check by mixing bloods before transfusion. But in an emergency they rely on the ABO and Rh rules.

At any rate, although Landsteiner didn’t know the genetics and biochemistry, he did know which blood mixed with which without agglutination, and this led to the first successful blood transfusion based on Landsteiner-group compatibility in 1907. (Note to Wikipedia: this was not the first recorded and successful human-to-human transfusion; that was done in 1818 by James Blundell.)

It’s not well known that Landsteiner, along with Erwin Popper, also discovered and isolated the polio virus—in 1908.

For the blood-group discovery Landsteiner received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1930.


Karl Landsteiner

I have no idea why this Doodle isn’t seen in the U.S.:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 3.15.43 PM

h/t: David W.


  1. eric
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea why this Doodle isn’t seen in the U.S.

    The only thing I can think of – and this is pretty lame – is that it’s Flag day here in the US. Maybe they went with that instead?

    • Posted June 14, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      No, there’s no Doodle at all in the U.S. It’s weird.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 14, 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Just guessing, but maybe they thought it might be insensitive to run a doodle about blood just three days after a mass shooting.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 14, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        More particularly since there were complaints about the … incongruity … that despite the call for blood donors after the Orlando night club mass shooting, members of the gay community most affected (*) by the shooting were barred from donating blood by long-established rules over blood-borne pathogens.
        FWIW, since they changed the rules in the UK over people who’ve ever snorted drugs – even if you used your own rolled-up fiver for the speed – I’m also barred from donating blood. Which was damned annoying because I was about 3 donations short of the 50-pint mark.
        (*) The club may have been a “gay venue” ; that doesn’t mean that all people there were gay. I’ve never had any problems about going into a gay bar for a beer and a chat if I happen to bump into gay friends in town. Or, for that matter, if the gay bar just happens to be nearby when I’m out with anyone.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:48 am | Permalink

          A friend and I were friendly asked if we really belonged in a gay bar, as we went into the nearest water hole during a hot summer day’s water festival.

          But they had hung leather and chains [!?] as I surveyed the walls more closely… Yeah, bad fit at a guess.

          • John Ottaway
            Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:51 am | Permalink

            The leather and chains were a bad fit, or the bar?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 15, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

            Pity I never know about the BDSM nights before the eent. The “clanky bits” from the caving gear would go down fine.

    • Woof
      Posted June 14, 2016 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Possibly they were concerned that Tea Billies would be offended by it.

      “Son, are you saying that blood from them darkies is just as good as mine?”

      • Woof
        Posted June 14, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink


        [Pulls out shotgun}

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 14, 2016 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

          From which orifice?

          • Woof
            Posted June 15, 2016 at 3:29 am | Permalink

            Good question.

  2. angelaevans773
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    It looks like it isn’t in the U.K., either.

    • David Harper
      Posted June 15, 2016 at 4:44 am | Permalink

      You’re right. Google in the UK just has the default “Google UK” banner.

  3. Stackpole
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Jehovah’s Witnesses said “No way”?

    Or extreme “no offense” thinking?

  4. Stackpole
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Forgot to sub

  5. Ann German
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I know my blood type, because it is the “universal” donor, O-, so I donate every 8 weeks to the Red Cross . . . that’s a good way to find out your blood type: donate!

  6. Posted June 14, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Type A here and I know my genotype is AO because my mom is AB and my dad and brother are both B’s

    One of the weirdest maps I ever saw was in David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. There was a map in it that showed the concentration of the B type across Europe with little gradient lines. Once the concentration was above a certain level, the language spoken there had at least one dental fricative, a “th” sound.

    Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and Greece had the highest concentrations of B type blood. And the languages there have dental fricatives. BTW, the “d” in Spanish counts as a dental fricative, not just the Castilian “s” and “z”.

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    I just saw it in the US on my Twitter feed, I think the plain old Google Twitter account… does that mouthful of almost-jargon make sense

  8. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Now I know who discovered blood types, yet I still don’t know my own blood type…

  9. pablo
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    They might be cautious because a couple of weeks ago the doodle honored “activist” Yuri Kochiyama who turned out to be a rather vocal supporter of Osama bin Laden. This coincided with the downing of that Egyptian airliner.

  10. Posted June 15, 2016 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    O pos here, and working on my 7th gallon. I suppose it makes some sense to screen but not to equate having sex with having a disease. at my local blood bank, I get asked plenty of questions about using needles in any way, travel, exposure to blood born pathogens, etc.

  11. Posted June 15, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    My understanding is that this was discovered by mixing samples of blood. So if you mixed A or B blood with each other or with O, you would get agglutination. You wouldn’t get agglutination with A with A, B with B, or anything with AB. This of course is due to antibodies to the other types of blood.

    My question is why do people have those antibodies? In the case of the mother having a different blood type to the child, I can understand both of them producing antibodies to each others blood type because of fetal mixing of blood (eg. Mum is B, child is A, so Mum makes anti-A and child makes anti-B). However if both the mother and child were type O, why would either of them have antibodies to type A or B if neither of them had been exposed to it before?

    • Posted June 20, 2016 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      A and B antigens are carbohydrates (unlike most other antigens that are proteins). You can find identical carbohydrates in very different organisms, because the diversity of carbohydrate building blocks and ways to bind them together is limited. So we are “immunized” against A and B antigens by identical carbohydrates encountered in food or produced by gut bacteria. Newborn babies have no anti-A or anti-B antibodies but produce them over the next 6-12 months. We just do not produce antibodies against an antigen that we have, because we are normally tolerant to self-antigens.

      The other important blood group, Rhesus, is based on a protein antigen. Hence, there are no pre-made anti-Rhesus antibodies, and a Rh(-) individual can endure one transfusion of Rh(+) blood (not that it is a good idea).

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