Dr. Greene's Answer
Genetics can be so confusing! I can easily see how after much research the issue about your parents would still appear murky.
The modern science of genetics had its start in 1866 when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel provided a simple yet powerful description of how traits are passed on from one generation to another. Mendel’s work was unappreciated until 1900 — more than fifteen years after his death. In his initial formulation, he described how sexual beings get two genes for each trait, one from each parent. The trait expressed, or visible, is a result of the interplay between these two genes. Specifically, he recognized that some genes are dominant and some are recessive. If you have one copy of a dominant gene you will express that trait, regardless of the other gene. In order to express a recessive trait you must have two recessive genes.
Mendel’s first experiments, though simple, were quite profound. He worked with peas, which had easily distinguishable traits, such as green versus yellow seeds. Each pea has two seed-color genes, one from each parent. The peas with two yellow genes were yellow. Those with a yellow and a green gene were also yellow; only those with two green genes turned out to be green. Thus yellow was dominant over the recessive green gene.
The Genetics of Human Blood
The situation with human blood genetics is far more complex, since at each point there are multiple possible characteristics. Nevertheless, the genetics of human blood is far better understood than that of any other human tissue. While there are rare exceptions, the following information on blood types applies to most people.
The ABO Blood Types
- Each person receives an A, a B, or an O gene from each parent.
- The A and B genes are co-dominant, and the O gene is recessive.
- A person whose genetic type is either AA or AO will have blood type A, those with genetic type BB or BO will have blood type B, and only those with genetic type OO will have blood type O.
- A child with type O blood can have parents with type A, type B, or type O blood, but not type AB. Conversely, if two parents both have type O blood, all their children will have type O blood.
The Rh System
Another medically important blood type is described in the Rh system. These genes were first discovered in the rhesus monkey, hence the designation Rh. The Rh system is actually far more complex than the ABO system in that there are 35 different possibilities that one could inherit from each parent. These, however, are roughly grouped into positive and negative types. In this system the positive are dominant over the negative.
- If your genetic type is ++ or +-, your blood type will be Rh-positive.
- Only if your genetic type is — will you be Rh negative.
- If both parents have Rh+ blood with the +- genes, they could have children who are ++, +-, or –. In other words, their children could be either Rh positive or Rh negative.
- Most children who are O negative have parents who are positive since the +- combination is so much more common than the — combination.
Two parents who have O positive blood could easily have a child who is O negative. In fact, most children who are O negative have parents who are positive, since the +- combination is so much more common than the — combination.
Non-ABO, Non-Rh Systems
As it turns out, there are more than a dozen complete blood group systems other than the ABO system and the Rh system. This makes great precision possible in looking at inheritance and family trees.
There is no reason, based on your blood type, to suspect that your parents might not really be your parents. If questions linger for other reasons, specific tests are available through blood banks and private laboratories that can settle the issue. These tests are commonly known as paternity and maternity DNA testing (for father and mother respectively). Given the billions of unique people on this planet, the power and precision of genetic testing are amazing.
Resources and References
Dean L. Blood Groups and Red Cell Antigens. Bethesda (MD): National Center for Biotechnology Information (US); 2005. Chapter 5, The ABO blood group.