A unusual genus of skink belonging to the species Prasinohaema has odd green blood that has incredibly toxic properties.
Why do some lizards have green blood?
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.
"In addition to having the highest concentration of biliverdin recorded for any animal, these lizards have somehow evolved a resistance to bile pigment toxicity", lead author Zachary Rodriguez, a doctoral candidate in Austin's lab at Louisiana State University, explained in a statement released Wednesday. 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.
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"Our current hypothesis is that this novel and toxic physiology might have evolved to reduce or preclude the infection of blood parasites such as malaria", Austin said. In this tube, red blood cells are on the right and green blood plasma is on the left. This surprised the researchers, who made a decision to investigate the matter and disclose the mystery of the green blood. "Understanding the underlying physiological changes that have allowed these lizards to remain jaundice-free may translate to non-traditional approaches to specific health problems".
Green blood likely emerged independently in various lizards, which suggests that green blood may have an adaptive value.
"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", said Susan Perkins, curator and professor at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. "They have other cool traits such as giving birth to live young and [having] adhesive toe pads", Rodriguez added. These skinks' green blood comes from high levels of biliverdin, a green bile pigment that, when converted to bilirubin, causes jaundice.
"Our next goal is to identify the genes responsible for green blood", Rodriguez said. He notes that elevated levels of biliverdin have been found in some fish, and they may also explain the green blood in some frogs.
Scientists previously believed that green-blooded skinks may be part of a closely related group but this wasn't the case. The previous studies have concluded that the bile pigment can act as an antioxidant searching for the free radicals and prevent diseases while in vitro fertilization. Still, they're continuing to explore what kind of relationship there might be between malaria and green blood.