Listen to Today's Edition
Scientists in France discovered that rising temperatures are causing a species of lizards to give birth to offspring with damaged and aged DNA.
For more than a decade, a research team closely studied the viviparous lizard, a species that is found from Ireland to Japan. Also known as the common lizard, the reptile has a unique reproductive system: It can both lay eggs and give live birth, too.
Researchers took samples of blood and pieces of their tails to catalog the genetic material of hundreds of individuals. They specifically measured caps at the ends of the lizards’ chromosomes called telomeres, which shield the rest of the DNA from fraying or tangling.
Telomeres degrade over time as the species age and as a result of stressors, including rising temperatures.
The findings showed that newborn lizards born in heat-stressed populations had shorter telomeres, suggesting that they were “born old.”
The team explained that shorter telomeres could be passed on by lizard mothers living in hotter areas and lead to DNA degradation over generations. And since most “old” newborns cannot make it to reproductive age, their populations could eventually go extinct.
“Once you are in this circle of events, it’s quite complicated to come back,” said co-author Andréaz Dupoué.
Dupoué and his colleagues noted, however, that the study could encourage other researchers to use telomeres as a measure to figure out if conservation efforts are working.