Beethoven’s genome provided insight into chronic health problems and cause of death

Credit: Maria Lupan / Unsplash

Researchers have analyzed DNA extracted from locks of hair attributed to the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven to shed light on his health problems and cause of death.

Beethoven, who suffered from progressive hearing loss, requested in his will that his medical malady be made public after his death.

Two centuries later, a team of scientists has partially fulfilled his wish by studying his DNA.

The researchers confirmed that Beethoven was genetically predisposed to liver disease, which could have contributed to his death.

They also found evidence of infection with the hepatitis B virus in the months before the composer’s final illness.

The team analyzed independently sourced locks of hair attributed to Beethoven, but only five of these were confirmed to come from the same European male, making them “almost certainly authentic.”

The researchers used these samples to sequence Beethoven’s genome to 24-fold genomic coverage, which allowed them to investigate his genetic predisposition to the disease.

However, the researchers couldn’t find a definitive cause for Beethoven’s hearing loss or gastrointestinal problems.

In addition, they uncovered another surprise when they discovered that Beethoven’s Y chromosome didn’t match any of five modern-day relatives who share a common ancestor with Beethoven’s paternal line.

The finding indicates an extramarital event somewhere along Beethoven’s father’s side of the family tree.

Future studies of Beethoven’s samples collected over time might help clarify when he got infected with hepatitis B, while more studies of his close relatives might help to clarify his biological relationship to modern descendants of the Beethoven family.

The researchers hope that their study will not only provide insight into Beethoven’s health but also demonstrate the power of modern genetics to unlock historical mysteries.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about drug combo that could prevent stroke and heart disease, and Stanford study finds a new cause of heart attack.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about 7 common triggers of heartbeat problem that may surprise you, and results showing drinking up to three cups of coffee a day may protect your heart.

The study was conducted by Johannes Krause et al and published in Current Biology.

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