And DNA analysis made from locks of hair Ludwig van Beethoven has revealed the possible causes of death of the brilliant composer, who suffered a progressive hearing loss that led him to the deafness, among other health problems. In 1802, Beethoven himself spoke to his brothers and told them to ask their doctor to describe his illness and make the information public. Now, more than two centuries after his death, genetic research has produced results that have been published in the journal Current Biology.
Beethoven experienced “terrifying” Gastrointestinal disorders and, in the summer of 1821, he suffered the first of at least two bouts of jaundice, a sign of liver disease; in fact, it has long been considered that the cirrhosis it was the most likely cause of his death at the age of 56, in 1827.
“We couldn’t find a definitive cause for Beethoven’s deafness or gastrointestinal problems,” said Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “However, we discovered a number of genetic risk factors significant for the liver disease. We also found evidence of a infection with the hepatitis B virus, at most in the months prior to the composer’s last illness. That probably contributed to his death.”
“Beethoven’s alcohol consumption was very regular and it is likely that this amounted to amounts of alcohol known today to be harmful to the liver”
Tristan Begg, from the University of Cambridge, and lead author of the study, notes that “his alcohol consumption was very regular and this likely equated to amounts of alcohol now known to be harmful to the liver. If your drinking was heavy enough over a long enough period of time, the interaction with your genetic risk factors presents a possible explanation for your cirrhosis.”
Beethoven had a genetic predisposition to liver disease
When analyzing Beethoven’s genome, the researchers found that his Y chromosome does not match that of any of the five modern relatives with the same last name and who, according to genealogical records, share a common ancestor with Beethoven’s paternal line, suggesting that an “extra-marital paternity event” occurred in his paternal line between Hendrik van Beethoven’s conception in Kampenhout, Belgium in 1572 and Ludwig van Beethoven’s conception seven generations later in 1770, in Bonn, Germany,” says Tristan Begg, now at Cambridge University, UK.
The researchers began by analyzing strands of hair of independent origin, presumed to belong to Beethoven; verified that only five of them came from the same European man and that they were “almost certainly authentic” and used them to sequencing Beethoven’s genome with a genomic coverage of 24 times.
Although medical biographers had previously suggested that Beethoven suffered from numerous hereditary conditionsthe authors of the new study have not found in his genome a cause that explains his hearing disorder or his gastrointestinal problems, but they did discover that he had a genetic predisposition to liver disease.
The DNA that has been extracted from the musician’s hair is genetically most similar to that of people currently living in North Rhine-Westphalia, consistent with Beethoven’s known German ancestry, Begg notes. Future studies of Beethoven’s samples collected over time could help clarify when he contracted hepatitis B. In addition, further studies of his close relatives could help clarify his biological relationship to modern descendants of the family. Beethoven.