Beethoven’s DNA hair analysis reveals surprising findings about his death
The circumstances surrounding the death of Ludwig Van Beethoven have long been under a veil of mystery and controversy.
Recently, scientists have turned to Beethoven’s DNA to shed new light on the cause of his death, and the findings are surprising.
Beethoven passed away on March 26, 1827, at 56. The official cause of his death was liver failure, but many theories have emerged over the years about what killed him.
Others have speculated that someone poisoned him, while others have suggested he had syphilis, lead poisoning, or lupus. However, until recently, no one could definitively determine the cause of Beethoven’s death.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Christopher E. Plaisier, a computational biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, set out to analyze a lock of Beethoven’s hair to learn more about his health and the circumstances surrounding his death.
In an analysis of strands of Ludwig van Beethoven's hair published Wednesday, researchers debunked myths about the composer while raising new questions about his life and death. https://t.co/x14IOlcR24 pic.twitter.com/r20KQplmnC
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 22, 2023
They used whole-genome sequencing to examine the DNA contained within the hair, which they had collected shortly after Beethoven’s death and preserved in a private collection.
According to a genetic analysis of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair, the composer was found to have a high genetic susceptibility to liver disease, which could have played a role in his death.
The researchers also found evidence of lead, cadmium, and zinc in Beethoven’s hair, all toxic metals that can cause serious health problems. However, the levels of these metals were not high enough to have caused his death.
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They also discovered a genetic mutation associated with a developmental risk of certain types of cancer. But again, this would not have been enough to kill Beethoven.
Beethoven was born in 1770 and began experiencing hearing loss in his mid-20s, coinciding with his rise to fame. By his mid-40s, he had become almost entirely deaf and suffered from significant gastrointestinal problems.
He passed away in 1827 at the age of 56. A post-mortem examination at that time revealed that he had sustained significant liver damage.
At very long last, the publication of the flagship paper of The Beethoven Genome Project. Lots of ground is covered in this paper and the interpretations of almost all of the major findings will, I hope, promote interesting and high-quality debate. https://t.co/yFpGEmJOJx
— Tristan James Alexander Begg (@BeggTristan) March 23, 2023
So, what caused Beethoven’s death?
According to the researchers, the most likely explanation is that he died of cirrhosis. It is a disease that damages the liver and can be due to heavy drinking. Beethoven was a heavy drinker, and his autopsy revealed his liver was severely damaged.
The researchers found that the earlier-mentioned genetic mutation was linked with a higher risk of cirrhosis, which further supports this theory.
The team also discovered evidence that Beethoven had a hepatitis B infection. This virus can also be a cause of liver damage. But the researchers couldn’t find any genetic factor linked to Beethoven’s gastrointestinal problems or deafness.
“A single gene hardly causes late-onset forms of hearing loss,” said one of the researchers, Tristan Begg.
Layla Renshaw from Kingston University, UK, finds the genetic examination intriguing.
Previous endeavors to sequence Beethoven’s DNA from hair samples indicated he suffered from lead poisoning. Still, this new study unveils that the last analysis was performed on a woman’s hair.
According to Renshaw, considering this context, there is a compelling ethical justification for employing genetic analysis to eliminate past misunderstandings or conjectures.