“The Mystery of Why So Many 100-Year-Olds Are Surviving Covid-19”

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The Story

“The Mystery of Why So Many 100-Year-Olds Are Surviving Covid-19″
by Mariana Lenharo
Elemental, September 2, 2020

The Pitch

I hope you are doing well. I have a Covid-19-related story I’d like to pitch.

This scientist is trying to figure out why some centenarians are unharmed by Covid-19

Elderly people are much more likely to die from Covid-19 in comparison to younger patients. But some centenarians manage to easily survive the infection even as their descendants struggle to recover.

Geneticist Mayana Zatz has always been intrigued by how certain centenarians seem to effortlessly overcome all kinds of environmental stresses. In the last few years, her team at the Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, has sequenced the genome of 1,300 healthy seniors over 80 to look for genetic traits that might make them super resistant.

When Zatz started seeing reports of very elderly Covid-19 patients completely recovering, she decided to look into it. Her lab is now searching for centenarians who were exposed to Covid-19 and didn’t show any symptoms or were cured without any complications. Last week, she collected samples from a 104-year-old woman who had very mild symptoms of the disease.

Zatz’s hypothesis is that this resilience is not just a result of healthy habits, but determined by genetic traits. By analyzing the genome of elderlies who easily beat the virus, she hopes to identify possible genetic mutations responsible for the Covid-19 super resistance. And if such mutations exist, she wants to know what exactly they do.

Another step of the research is to use the centenarians’ blood cells to generate other types of cells (like muscle and cardiac cells) in the lab and watch how they respond to a coronavirus infection to gain insight on potential new treatments.

To fully understand why the severity of Covid-19 varies so much among different patients, Zatz is also analyzing the genome of another type of outlier: patients younger than 40 without underlying conditions who died from the disease.

For this story, I plan to interview Mayana Zatz, director of the Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo, about her quest to help solve the mystery of why Covid-19 is so devastating for some people, but not for others.

Please let me know if this might be a good fit for Elemental.

Thank you!

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