SCIENTISTS in Spain have taken samples from the oldest woman in the world in a bid to discover her secrets to a long life – and to develop cures for diseases.
Maria Branyas is an incredible 116 years old, but has no health complications other than hearing and mobility issues.
The ‘Super Grandmother’, who regularly updates her followers on X (Twitter), beat Covid in 2020 and has survived the Spanish Civil War, a deadly earthquake in the US and a major fire.
She previously advised anyone hoping to live a long life to cut out ‘toxic people’ and avoid ‘excess’.
Unlike most people her age, she has zero cardiovascular problems nor memory issues, and can recount stories from the age of four as if they happened yesterday.
‘She’s incredible,’ said Manel Esteller, director of the Josep Carreras leukaemia research institute and a professor of genetics at the University of Barcelona.
Manel has taken DNA samples (saliva, urine and blood) from Maria, whom he visited at her care home in Olot, Gerona, in northern Spain.
He told Spanish newspaper ABC: “She has a completely lucid head. She remembers with impressive clarity episodes of her when she was only four years old, and she does not present any cardiovascular disease, common in elderly people. The only thing she has are mobility and hearing problems.”
Manel, a world leader in genetics, wants to discover how far Maria’s genes go in explaining her longevity, and how much is to do with her lifestyle.
Maria, the daughter of a journalist from Pamplona, was born in San Francisco (United States) on March 4, 1907, but returned to Spain as a child.
She lived in different areas of the Catalunya region and had three children.
Maria has previously credited eating natural yoghurt each day for her longevity, and avoiding ‘excesses’, adding: “I have always eaten little, but everything, and I have never followed any regime. I have not suffered from any illness or been through an operating room.”
Asked about her secret to a long life, she previously tweeted: “Order, tranquility, good connection with family and friends, contact with nature, emotional stability, lots of positivity and away from toxic people.”
However she admitted that she also believes it is down to genes and ‘luck’, which expert Manel agrees with.
He explained: “It is clear that there is a genetic component because there are several members of her family who are over 90 years old.”
To what extent her genes have shielded her from age-related deterioration is what his team will try to discover in the laboratory.
He added: “What is clear is that she is a person with an extraordinary capacity for resilience… She is a true survivor.”
The study will analyse six billion segments of her DNA, focusing on 200 genes that are directly related to ageing.
The results will be compared, according to Manel, with those obtained from her middle daughter, who is 79 years old – she has another who is 90 and a son who died in an accident when he was 77.
The goal of the research is to help develop drugs capable of combating diseases typically caused by old age.
“We hope the study of Maria’s cells will give us new clues about how to address neurodegenerative or cardiovascular diseases associated with age, and cancer,” said Manel.