Lizards genetically modified to adapt to urban life: NPR

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Anolis cristatellus lizard in Rincon, Puerto Rico, November 22, 2018.

Christine Winchell/New York University via AP

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Christine Winchell/New York University via AP


Anolis cristatellus lizard in Rincon, Puerto Rico, November 22, 2018.

Christine Winchell/New York University via AP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Lizards that once lived in forests but now lurk in urban areas have been genetically altered to survive urban life, a new study has found.

The Puerto Rican crested anole, a brown lizard with a bright orange throat fan, has grown special scales to better cling to smooth surfaces like walls and windows and evolved larger feet to run in open areas, scientists say.

“We’re watching evolution unfold,” said Christine Winchell, a professor of biology at New York University and lead author of the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As urbanization increases worldwide, it’s important to understand how organisms adapt and how humans can design cities to support all species, Winchell said.

In the study, 96 Anolis cristatellus lizards were analyzed, comparing the genetic structure of the forest population with those living in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, as well as in the northern city of Arecibo and the western city of Mayaguez. Scientists have found that 33 genes in the lizard genome are repeatedly associated with urbanization.

“You can’t go near the smoking gun!” Wouter Halfwerk, an evolutionary ecologist and professor at Vrije University in Amsterdam, who was not involved in the study, said.

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