Medical

Lizards' Green Blood Evolved Four Times

Lizards' Green Blood Evolved Four Times

"The green-blooded skinks of New Guinea are fascinating to me as a parasitologist because a similar liver product, bilirubin, is known to be toxic to human malaria parasites".

These reptiles have muscles, bones and tongues that appear to be bright lime green, due to high levels of a toxic green bile pigment in their blood known as biliverdin.

"We were excited by the complex history of these animals and surprised by the breadth of green-blooded lineages across lizards", said Rodriguez.

Though Austin admits it is "pretty speculative", he says his team also wants to see if lizards' green blood protects them from parasites like malaria, noting test tube experiments showing moderately jacked-up levels of bilirubin protect against human malarial infections.

Why do the odd lizards have green blood?

In the mid-19th century, the first European naturalists who visited New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, discovered on their territory several types of very unusual lizards, more like poisonous salamanders and vipers of medieval tales and legends than actual living beings.




"In addition to having the highest concentration of biliverdin recorded for any animal, these lizards have somehow evolved a resistance to bile pigment toxicity", Zachary Rodriguez, a biologist from Louisiana State University (LSU), said in a statement. Researchers said on Wednesday a DNA study resolved their family tree, finding that green-bloodedness evolved four different times among lizards called skinks on New Guinea.

"Oh, these animals are gorgeous, truly some of the most handsome and enigmatic lizards in the world, living on one of the most megadiverse islands on the planet", Austin said. Their results will be published on May 16 in Science Advances. This makes it quite clear that the green blooded lizards evolved independently, suggesting that the green blood comes with certain properties which are beneficial. Slightly elevated levels of bile pigments in other animals, including insects, fish and frogs, have played potentially positive roles in these animals.

The green-blooded lizards, up to a foot (30 cm) long, live in lowland tropical forests and highlands on New Guinea, an island shared by Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Several studies in the past have also shown that the bile pigment can act as an antioxidant and prevent diseases during in vitro fertilization.

Prasinohaema virens, a green-blooded skinkCHRISTOPHER AUSTINTo find out how the trait arose in lizards, Austin and his colleagues examined the genomes of 51 species of skinks, including six with green blood. This is the only species of green-blooded skink that lays eggs.

Although their lime-green blood should be killing them, this freakish group of New Guinea skinks seem to be doing just fine.


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