Professor Xuhua Xia, of the University of Ottawa’s biology department, made the extraordinary claim in a new report published yesterday – identifying canines as the probable intermediate host. Prof Xia’s research suggested the ancestor of the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 first infected the intestines of dogs which ingested bat meat. He and his team reached their conclusion after studying the genetic make up of both Sars-Cov-2 – the novel coronavirus which has caused the pandemic – and a similar virus, commonly found in horseshoe bats.
In each, they found low levels of CpG dinucleotides, regions of DNA which tell immune systems to attack the virus.
Similar genomic values are only found in the genomes of canine coronaviruses, the study, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, concludes.
The report said the cellular receptor for Sars-CoV-2 is “pervasively expressed in the human digestive system”.
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The report claims stray dogs may be an “intermediate species”
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It added: “This is consistent with the interpretation that the low CpG in Sars-CoV-2 was acquired by the ancestor of Sars-CoV-2 evolving in mammalian digestive systems.
“The interpretation is further corroborated by a recent report that a high proportion of Covid-19 patients also suffer from digestive discomfort.
“In fact, 48.5 percent presented with digestive symptoms as their chief complaint.”
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Sickening images from the Yulin dog meat festival
This suggests the importance of monitoring SARS-like coronaviruses in feral dogs in the fight against SARS-CoV-2
Prof Xia added suggested: “This suggests the importance of monitoring SARS-like coronaviruses in feral dogs in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.
“While the specific origins of SARS-CoV-2 are of vital interest in the current world health environment, this study more broadly suggests that important evidence of viral evolution can be revealed by consideration of the interaction of host defense with viral genomes, including selective pressure exerted by host tissues on viral genome composition.”
The research was published days after China reclassified dogs as pets rather than livestock in an attempt to discourage the widespread practice of eating dog meat, with animal lovers the world over horrified by sickening images of dogs being slaughtered during the annual Yulin dog meat festival.
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Horseshoe bats are believed to be the reservoir species for the ancestor of COVID-19
Another study suggested pangolins are a more likely intermediary species
However, the link between dog meat and COVID-19 is not supported by other scientists.
Another study published last month in the scientific journal nature suggested a coronavirus strikingly similar to Sars-Cov-2 had been identified in Malayan pangolins seized in anti-smuggling operations in southern China, some as long ago as August 2017.
The international trading of pangolin products, both as food and for traditional medicine, has been banned since 2016.
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In addition Professor James Wood, head of the department of Veterinary Medicine and researcher in infection dynamics at the University of Cambridge, was dubious about Prof Xia’s claims.
He said: “There is far too much inference and far too little direct data.
“I do not see anything in this paper to support this supposition and am concerned that this paper has been published in this journal.
COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China
“I do not believe that any dog owners should be concerned as a result of this work.”
The number of people infected by COVID-19 is almost certain to pass the two million-mark today, with Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre putting the current figure at 1,982,552.
The disease first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan towards the end of last year – but the total number of confirmed cases in the country – 83,351 – is now dwarfed by several countries in Europe, and most notably by the USA, where 609,422 have the disease.