The Lizards With Lime-Green Blood

Green lizards

Scientists have discovered that four different kinds of lizards independently evolved toxic green blood. The team is hoping that by continuing to study the elevated biliverdin levels in the lizards they can better understand the benefits of having green blood in the first place - and whether there's anything humans can learn from it. "Ongoing work with the Austin lab examines the potential effect of the green blood pigment on malaria and other parasites that infect these lizards", said co-author Susan Perkins, curator and professor at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics and the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History. The blood of skinks contains 40 times the lethal concentration found in humans.

The green pigment comes from high levels of biliverdin, a "toxic waste product made during the body's normal breakdown of red blood cells", NPR reports.

The blood of a unique group of lizards in New Guinea runs green, a bright lime green, thanks to the excess of biliverdin, a green bile pigment, flowing through their veins.

It is unusual to believe that with such high levels of bile pigment, these lizards live a healthy life. But in a new Science Advances study, a team of biologists reveal that they've uncovered the evolutionary history of the skinks' green blood, which may offer some clues into how we can use it too. Biliverdin is toxic to humans and causes jaundice.

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Austin tells NPR that the biliverdin likely didn't give the animals an advantage in deterring predators, as animals are able to eat the skinks without untoward GI troubles (he himself ate them, saying it was like "bad sushi"). "Understanding the underlying physiological changes that have allowed these lizards to remain jaundice-free may translate to non-traditional approaches to specific health problems".

While analyzing the green-blooded skins, they found that there were four separate lines of green-blooded skins. But these lizard species don't look alike and have different lifestyles, with some laying eggs and others giving birth to live young. The researchers say the next step is to identify the specific genes responsible for green blood.

Green blood likely emerged independently in various lizards, which suggests that green blood may have an adaptive value.

Rodriguez added, researchers are excited by the complex history of these animals and surprised by the breadth of green-blooded lineages across the lizards. They think that this means that the green blood may be a valuable adaptation. This green bile pigment is produced in the process of breaking down the oxygen-transporting molecule hemoglobin into the bile pigment bilirubin. They hypothesize that the green bile pigment may "act as an antioxidant scavenging free radicals as well as preventing disease during in vitro fertilization".

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