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Mystery of lizards with green blood
18 May 2018, 05:59 | Lena Norman
Lizards' Green Blood Evolved Four Times
Not only can these skinks survive the incredibly high levels of toxicity, there are multiple species of these green-blooded skinks running around New Guinea, suggesting that there's some evolutionary advantage to it.
Prasinohaema prehensicauda is a green-blooded lizard with high concentrations of biliverdin, or a toxic green bile pigment, found in New Guinea.
The high blood concentration of the green bile pigment biliverdin overwhelms the intense crimson color of red blood cells, resulting in a striking lime-green coloration of their blood, muscles, bones and mucosal tissues, said LSU biologist Christopher Austin, a curator at the museum. As geckos and anoles, these lizards are able to climb up most smooth surfaces, including glass, and their blood contains a record number of biliverdin, one of the main components of bile. "Understanding why jaundice is not killing them, will help us to approach some of the problems with human health in an unexpected way", said Rodriguez Zachary (Zachary Rodriguez) from Louisiana state University in Baton Rouge (United States).
"Oh, these animals are gorgeous, truly some of the most lovely and enigmatic lizards in the world, living on one of the most megadiverse islands on the planet", Austin said. By examining the DNA of the skinks, they found at least four different lineages of green-blooded skinks and that each one evolved separately from predecessors with normal red blood.
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To understand the evolutionary history of the green-colored blood, Rodriguez and his colleagues did a genetic analysis of 51 species of skink, including six species that have green blood (two of which were previously unknown to science).
The fact that green blood emerged independently on numerous occasions suggests it may be evolutionarily beneficial, according to the researchers. Slightly elevated levels of bile pigments in other animals, including insects, fish and frogs, have played potentially positive roles in these animals. However, the function of green bile pigment in these lizards is still uncertain. Several studies in the past have also shown that the bile pigment can act as an antioxidant and prevent diseases during in vitro fertilization.
"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". This is the only species of green-blooded skink that lays eggs. "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 Perkins.
"Our next goal is to identify the genes responsible for green blood", said Rodriguez.
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