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Dr. Xuhua Xia presents at a University of Ottawa biology symposium. Photo: Antoine Morin.

Interview: U of O molecular biologist and COVID-19 researcher Dr. Xuhua Xia

By Asim B. on May 13, 2020

Dr. Xuhua Xia is a full professor at the University of Ottawa’s Biology Department. He recently published a Molecular Biology and Evolution 2020 paper titled Extreme Genomic CpG Deficiency in SARS-CoV-2 and Evasion of Host Antiviral Defense. The paper is available online through Oxford Academic, which is an online resource hosted by Oxford University Press Department.

Although the paper was not intended to focus on domestic dogs, media outlets misrepresented Dr. Xia’s paper by relating his research on COVID-19 to domestic cats and dogs. Initially, I came across one such article and, after a quick search of his work, realized it was being taken out of context. To help me better understand the work and to shed some light on COVID-19 research that is happening right here in our own City, I contacted the professor and asked to interview him about the original paper.

Listen to the interview with Dr. Xuhua Xia

Me being me, I had to take his published paper, then read his layperson’s explanation of it, and then once again I had to compile my own (even more layperson’s explanation) of his research before coming to a general understanding of his work, what COVID-19 really is and where our current understanding of the virus is at the moment. To help assist you in getting the full benefit of the discussion, I’ve included explanations of some terms, as well as links to his paper.

Reading Materials:

Dr. Xia’s original paper

A layperson’s version of his paper

A collection of the professor’s answers to various media questions

Helpful Terms:

  • DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It’s the genetic code that determines all the characteristics of a living thing. … Each nucleotide contains a sugar and a phosphate molecule, which make up the ‘backbone’ of DNA, and one of four organic bases. The bases are adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T)
  • RNA is short for ribonucleic acid. The nucleic acid that is used in key metabolic processes for all steps of protein synthesis in all living cells and carries the genetic information of many viruses. Unlike double-stranded DNA, RNA consists of a single strand of nucleotides, and it occurs in a variety of lengths and shapes.
  • DNA methylation is the process through which a methyl group is added to DNA nucleotides. DNA methylation can stably alter the gene expression of a cell, which may direct processes like stem cell differentiation and genomic imprinting.
  • CpG: In genetics, a site where cytosine (C) lies next to guanine (G) in the DNA sequence. (The p indicates that C and G are connected by a phosphodiester bond.) Methylation of DNA occurs at any CpG site.
  • Enzymes are protein molecules in cells which work as biological catalysts. Enzymes speed up chemical reactions in the body, but do not get used up in the process, therefore can be used over and over again. Almost all biochemical reactions in living things need enzymes.
  • Zinc Finger Antiviral Protien (ZAP) targets CpG dinucleotides in viral RNA genome, meaning viruses are targeted by ZAP and kill them.