Researchers may have figured out toxic, lime green lizard blood

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Why do the unusual lizards have green blood?

Their findings show the green blood evolved from red blood independently four separate times in lizards in separate genetic lineages-debunking the assumption that all green-blooded lizards must belong to one closely-related group.

If the green blood is protective against malaria, it's not perfectly so, because they've found a malarial parasite living inside a green-blooded lizard, says Perkins. Because the compound that gives the blood its Nickelodeon-slime hue is highly toxic to humans, scientists have been perplexed about how these skinks manage to survive, let alone thrive.

Prasinohaema prehensicauda is a green-blooded lizard with high concentrations of biliverdin, or a toxic green bile pigment, found in New Guinea. At its most low key, biliverdin is responsible for the green color in human bruises; when it's found in excess, it can cause jaundice. Surprisingly, these lizards remain healthy with levels of green bile that are 40 times higher than the lethal concentration in humans.

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In a study published Wednesday, scientists explain that the lizards' blood - as well as their muscles, bones, and tongues - are bright green because they contain high levels of biliverdin.

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").

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. They examined 51 species of skinks, which included six species with green blood, two of which are species new to science.

"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". But these lizard species don't look alike and have different lifestyles, with some laying eggs and others giving birth to live young. They apparently find being green so easy that even their blood is green. Each line shared an ancestor that originally had red blood. The green blood emerged in some of the lizards independently which means that the green blood might have come with an adaptive value. Multiple origins of green blood in New Guinea lizards. He notes that elevated levels of biliverdin have been found in some fish, and they may also explain the green blood in some frogs. 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. This green bile pigment is produced in the process of breaking down the oxygen-transporting molecule hemoglobin into the bile pigment bilirubin.