We Still Don't Know Why These Lizards Have Lime-Green Blood

We Still Don't Know Why These Lizards Have Lime-Green Blood

The high blood concentration of the green bile pigment biliverdin overwhelms the intense crimson colour 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.

Prasinohaema prehensicauda is a green-blooded lizard with high concentrations of biliverdin, or a toxic green bile pigment, found in New Guinea.

They found that green blood in these lizards likely evolved four different times, and that all of the green-blooded lizards were probably descended from a red-blooded ancestor.

Kermit the Frog used to sing that it wasn't easy being green, but that isn't the case for some real-life lizards. 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.

Biliverdin appears whenever hemoglobin, the particle that transports oxygen, breaks down to produce bilirubin, another bile pigment.

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"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", she said.

"We were excited by the complex history of these animals and surprised by the breadth of green-blooded lineages across lizards", study lead researcher Zachary Rodriguez, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University, said in a statement.

"I find it just absolutely remarkable that you've got this group of vertebrates, these lizards, that have a level of biliverdin that would kill a human being, and yet they're out catching insects and living lizard lives", says Susan Perkins, a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History in NY.

So Austin, Perkins, and their colleague Zachary Rodriguez made a decision to create a kind of lizard family tree by studying the DNA of 51 Australasian skink species, including six species that have green blood. The study was published in the American journal, Science Advances on May 16. "The problem is that there's green-blooded lizards that aren't green, and there's red-blooded lizards that are green", he explains. The researchers say the next step is to identify the specific genes responsible for green blood. "Evolution can do incredible things given enough time", Austin said. The fact that green blood emerged independently four times in separate lineages suggests that it must have had an adaptive value, but the team isn't quite sure what that value is yet. Multiple origins of green blood in New Guinea lizards.

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