Can Getting a Blood Transfusion Change my DNA?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2020
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Getting a standard blood transfusion cannot and will not change your DNA. Most people only receive red cells or blood plasma during medical procedures, and neither one of those blood components contain any DNA material. Transfused blood still needs to be a match to the recipient's blood type, including the ABO blood groupings. A blood test performed after a standard blood transfusion would reveal only the patient's DNA profile.

This isn't to say that human blood does not contain any DNA, however. White blood cells, which are usually removed from donated blood by a centrifuge, do contain DNA. If someone were to require a whole blood transfusion, the donor's white cells would enter the recipient's bloodstream and remain there until they expire, generally within four to eight days. Such whole blood transfers are rare, however, and the donor's DNA would not survive long enough to have an effect on the recipient's DNA. Conceivably, a blood test taken shortly after a whole blood transfusion could show a mix of DNA coding, but not strictly the DNA of the donor.

An episode of the television series M*A*S*H dealt with a racist white soldier who specifically asked the doctors not to give him any blood from a black donor. In an effort to show the patient the error of his ways, the doctors used iodine to darken his skin. When the patient awoke, he discovered he had turned "black" as a result of a blood transfusion. The doctors revealed their ruse only after lecturing the patient on the realities of blood donations. Receiving a blood transfusion from a donor of a different race would not change the recipient's own genetics.

Another television series, Law and Order, presented an episode in which the prime suspect was initially exonerated by a DNA blood test. Blood drawn from the suspect's arm did not match the blood found at the scene of the crime. Only after the suspect died did the detectives discover what really occurred. The suspect had implanted a plastic tube containing another person's blood into his arm, and that foreign blood was used in the original DNA test. Had the blood entered the suspect's own bloodstream, the test would have revealed the true killer's DNA. The foreign blood had to be kept separate from the killer's own bloodstream.

There are some transfusion procedures which can change the recipient's DNA, however. Bone marrow transfusions, for example, often require that the recipient's own blood and marrow be destroyed in order to reduce the chances of rejection. Once the donated marrow begins producing red blood cells again, the white blood cells would most likely contain the DNA of the donor, not the recipient. This is why finding a close genetic match for bone marrow donation can be so vital.

Receiving a standard platelet, plasma or red cell blood transfusion will not change the recipient's DNA at all. Receiving a whole blood transfusion might skew the results of a DNA test for a few days, but eventually the recipient's own blood cells should overwhelm those of the donor. Only a systemic process such as bone marrow transfusion could actually change the DNA profile of a recipient.

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Post 7

When I was a kid, I was in a severe accident and three-fifths of the my blood had to be replaced (yes, I almost died by bleeding to death). I always kind of wondered if it affected my genetic makeup. I guess not.

Post 6

Blood is blood, regardless of ethnicity. Different ethnicities or races may have the tendency to develop specific blood diseases, like sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs, but those conditions would be detected during the blood donation processes. Otherwise, the ethnic background of a donor should be of no concern to the recipient. A white recipient of a black person's donated blood could not possibly father a child of mixed ethnicity.

I'm not a medical expert, but I assume the medical professional who ordered or authorized the cholesterol test would or should be made aware of recent blood transfusions before collecting the sample. Blood cells and other ingredients only have a short shelf life before being replaced, so there is probably a short window after a transfusion where blood tests might be affected.

Post 5

I never knew that blood could be received by someone of a different ethnic group to the donor. That is fascinating. I had read that blood that is 0 negative can be given to anyone and that is what is given in emergencies when someone is on the verge of bleeding to death and there is not time for a type test. The human body is absolutely amazing.

Post 4

How soon after a blood transfusion is it safe to have a cholesterol test? Or doesn't it matter?

Post 3

A blood tranfusion, whether it is a single unit or a complete replacement, cannot change the recipient's DNA. Provided a male recipient were even healthy enough for sexual activity following a complete blood transfusion, his DNA information would be contained in his sperm cells, not his transfused blood cells.

Post 2

Just a question out of curiosity. Can a person get a whole blood transfusion and then pass on the Donor DNA through sex within few days?

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