Ludwig van Beethoven's genome has been sequenced for the first time by an international team of scientists using five genetically matching locks of the well-known composer's hair.
The research, led by the University of Cambridge, the Beethoven Center San Jose and American Beethoven Society, KU Leuven, FamilyTreeDNA, the University Hospital Bonn and the University of Bonn, the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, uncovers important information about the composer's health and poses new questions about his recent ancestry and cause of death.
In 1802, Beethoven asked his doctor to describe his illness and to make this record public. The great man's health and cause of death have been debated ever since, but without the benefit of genetic research.
Research published in Current Biology shows that DNA from five locks of hair—all dating from the last seven years of Beethoven's life—originate from a single individual matching the composer's documented ancestry. By combining genetic data with closely examined provenance histories, researchers conclude these five locks are "almost certainly authentic."
The study's primary aim is to shed light on Beethoven's health problems, which famously include progressive hearing loss, beginning in his mid- to late-20s and eventually leading to him being functionally deaf by 1818. The team also investigated possible genetic causes of Beethoven's chronic gastrointestinal complaints, and a severe liver disease that culminated in his death in 1827.
Beginning in his Bonn years, the composer suffered from "wretched" gastrointestinal problems, which continued and worsened in Vienna. In the summer of 1821, Beethoven had the first of at least two attacks of jaundice, a symptom of liver disease. Cirrhosis has long been viewed as the most likely cause of his death at age 56.
Genetic clues to Beethoven's health
The team of scientists were unable to find a definitive cause for Beethoven's deafness or gastrointestinal problems. However, they did discover a number of significant genetic risk factors for liver disease. They also found evidence of an infection with hepatitis B virus in the months before the composer's final illness.
You can read more in an article in the PHYS.ORG web site at: https://phys.org/news/2023-03-beethoven-genome-clues-health-family.html.