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Maria de Jesus, 115, woman believed to be world's oldest

Maria de Jesus posed for a photographer in 2006 outside her house in Tomar, central Portugal. Mrs. de Jesus, who was born in 1893, died Friday. Maria de Jesus posed for a photographer in 2006 outside her house in Tomar, central Portugal. Mrs. de Jesus, who was born in 1893, died Friday. (Nacho Doce/reuters)
Associated Press / January 4, 2009
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LISBON - A Portuguese woman who lived to see five of her great-great grandchildren born and was believed to have been the world's oldest person died Friday at the age of 115, officials said.

Maria de Jesus died in an ambulance near the central Portuguese town of Tomar, town council officials said.

She had been listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest person. That title now falls to an American, 114-year-old Gertrude Baines, who lives in a Los Angeles nursing home.

Born Sept. 10, 1893, Mrs. de Jesus was widowed at 57, outlived three of her six children, and had 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

On Friday, she ate breakfast normally, but then was taken to hospital because of a swelling, her daughter Maria Madalena told state news agency Lusa, without elaborating.

Mrs. De Jesus was 115 years and 114 days old.

"I regret the death of this lady, she really was the sweetest person," said town councilor Ivo Santos in Tomar, 84 miles north of Lisbon.

There are now 82 women and nine men verified as being 110 or older, according to gerontologist Dr. Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But he said there could be hundreds more in places such as China, India, or Africa where they would not have caught the attention of the Gerontology Research Group, a small volunteer organization that tracks supercentenarians and verifies their birth dates through birth certificates and other documents.

Coles said the supercentenarians appear to share one trait that might account for their longevity - they come from families whose members are long-lived.

"Whether they drink alcohol or not, it doesn't matter. Whether they smoke cigarettes or not doesn't seem to matter," he said. "The thing that does seem to matter is that they chose their parents wisely."

"It's in the genes. It's in the DNA," he said.

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