Lizards morphed their genes to move from forest and settle into cities

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Scientists found that 33 genes within the lizard genome were repeatedly associated with urbanization.

New Delhi,UPDATED: Jan 11, 2023 13:45 IST

Lizards

It’s important to understand how organisms adapt to changing landscape. (Photo: Getty)

By India Today Web Desk: Researchers have found that lizards genetically morphed themselves to survive life in cities while moving from forests. Parallel physical differences and genomic signatures were found in the urban izards as compared to their counterparts living in forests.

The study shows that lizards living in different cities have a parallel genomic marker when compared to neighboring forest lizards and researchers say that as urbanization intensifies around the world, it’s important to understand how organisms adapt and humans can design cities in ways that support all species.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) analyzed 96 Anolis cristatellus lizards, comparing the genetic makeup of forest-dwellers to those living in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, as well as the northern city of Arecibo and western city of Mayaguez.

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Anolis cristatellus lizards—a small-bodied species also known as the Puerto Rican crested anole—are commonly found in both urban and forested areas of Puerto Rico.

Urban lizards had significantly longer limbs and larger toe pads with more specialized scales on their toes. (Photo: Getty)

“Urbanization impacts roughly two-thirds of the Earth and is expected to continue to intensify. In many ways, cities provide us with natural laboratories for studying adaptive change, as we can compare urban populations with their non-urban counterparts to see how they respond to similar stressors and pressures over short periods of time,” Kristin Winchell, assistant professor of biology at NYU and the study’s first author, said in a statement.

Scientists found that 33 genes within the lizard genome were repeatedly associated with urbanization and the lizards’ physical differences appeared to be mirrored at the genomic level. The changes in these lizards, whose lifespans are roughly 7 years, can occur very quickly, within 30 to 80 generations, enabling them to escape from predators and survive in urban areas.

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The team first confirmed that the lizard populations in the three regions were genetically distinct from one another, and then measured their toe pads and legs and found that urban lizards had significantly longer limbs and larger toe pads with more specialized scales on their toes.

“While we need further analysis of these genes to really know what this finding means, we do have evidence that urban lizards get injured more and have more parasites, so changes to immune function and wound healing would make sense. Similarly, urban anoles eat human food, so it is possible that they could be experiencing changes to their metabolism,” said Winchell.

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