A pair of LSU scientists has found the biological cause of strange, lime-green blood found in several species of New Guinea lizards could unlock cures for malaria and jaundice in humans, according to an LSU news release.
LSU’s Chris Austin and Zachary Rodriguez—along with fellow researcher Susan Perkins, from the American Museum of Natural History in New York—have discovered multiple origins of green blood in the lizards. The team studied the DNA of 51 species of New Guinea skinks, including six with 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.
Austin tells NPR his team will confirm the findings with follow-up genetic work.
“It’s rare in the animal kingdom,” Rodriguez adds in the NPR report. “but because it does appear, this suggests there has to be some beneficial properties to green blood,”
For humans, this could mean a few things; namely, potential cures for lethal human diseases like jaundice and malaria.
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. Too much of a similar bile pigment, bilirubin, can give people jaundice. But the lizards aren’t sick.
Though Austin admits it is “pretty speculative,” he says his team also wants to see if lizards’ green blood protects them from parasites like malaria, noting test tube experiments showing moderately jacked-up levels of bilirubin protect against human malarial infections.