The current success rate of transplant surgery and immunosuppression has led to a demand for organs that has outstripped the supply. This has required investigation of alternate strategies. Therefore, allotransplantation across the ABO blood group barrier has commenced, and pig-to-human xenotransplantation is under consideration. The first immunological barrier to both these types of transplantation is the prevention of the antibody-mediated rejection. This rejection is a result of natural preformed antibodies circulating in the serum of the recipient binding to either ABO (for allo) or alpha-galactose (alpha-Gal) (for xeno) antigens expressed on the donor tissue. These antibodies recognise antigens that are, in both cases, carbohydrate molecules with the characteristic feature that the nonreducing terminal carbohydrate is either a Gal or N-acetlygalactosamine residue in an alpha1,3 linkage. These epitopes are synthesised by closely related members of a single family of glycosyltransferases. This review discusses the carbohydrate antigens, the enzymes involved in their synthesis and the consequences of natural antibodies binding these antigens.