Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Duane Townsend

The Cut - March 2020

Listen, I don’t really know how to put this so let’s just dive right in: the Arctic Ocean has chlamydia, a possibility I bet you’d never considered before, because oceans are not out there rubbing their genitals together. But in a year that continues to sling outlandish horror after outlandish horror straight at our faces, perpetually one-upping itself in a race to the bottom, truly anything is possible. Including a large body of saltwater testing positive for “several new chlamydia-related species,” per CNN.

The type of chlamydia bacteria that humans swap back and forth as an STI is just one of many possible strains, though all of them require host organisms to survive. The Arctic’s chlamydiae were discovered in deep sea sediment, roughly two miles below the water’s surface in hydrothermal vents between Iceland, Norway, and Svalbard. These bacterial living conditions offered neither oxygen nor an identifiable host, and so it is reasonable to wonder: Who gave the Arctic chlamydia?

Well, no one, although researchers are also confused as to where the bacteria came from. “Finding Chlamydiae in this environment was completely unexpected,” the study’s lead author — Jennah Dharamshi, a PhD student at Uppsala University in Sweden — said in a news release announcing the findings, now published in Current Biology. “What on earth were they doing there?”

Researchers suspect the bacteria may have been feeding off other compounds in the sediment, but have not yet been able to replicate these new strains in a lab, so extreme was their natural environment. Still, one thing is clear: This area of the Arctic floor is absolutely crawling with chlamydiae. The scientists found it in 51 of 68 sediment samples they took. One of the strains they identified appears closely related to the one responsible for burning pee and strange discharge in humans, and this could tell us something about the pathogen’s evolution.

So here we are: the Arctic is rife with chlamydia and no one knows how it got there. 2020, baby!

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