Multiple origins of green blood in New Guinea lizards

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Science Advances  16 May 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 5, eaao5017
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao5017

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Several species of lizards from the megadiverse island of New Guinea have evolved green blood. An unusually high concentration of the green bile pigment biliverdin in the circulatory system of these lizards makes the blood, muscles, bones, tongue, and mucosal tissues bright green in color, eclipsing the crimson color from their red blood cells. This is a remarkable physiological feature because bile pigments are toxic physiological waste products of red blood cell catabolism and, when chronically elevated, cause jaundice in humans and all other vertebrates. Although these lizards offer a promising system to examine the evolution of extraordinary physiological characteristics, little is known about the phylogenetic relationships of green-blooded lizards or the evolutionary origins of green blood. We present the first extensive phylogeny for green-blooded lizards and closely related Australasian lizards using thousands of genomic regions to examine the evolutionary history of this unusual trait. Maximum likelihood ancestral character state reconstruction supports four independent origins of green blood. Our results lay the phylogenetic foundation necessary to determine the role, if any, of natural selection in shaping this enigmatic physiological trait as well as understanding the genetic, proteomic, and biochemical basis for the lack of jaundice in those species that have independently evolved green blood.

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