Sunday, February 25, 2024

DNA analysis of Beethoven’s hair provides clues to his death

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Ludwig van Beethoven died in Vienna nearly 200 years ago after a lifetime of composing some of the most influential works in classical music.

Ever since, biographers have sought to explain the causes of the German composer’s death at the age of 56, his progressive hearing loss and his struggles with chronic illness.

An international team of researchers who sequenced Beethoven’s genome using authenticated locks of his hair may now have some answers.

Liver failure, or cirrhosis, was the likely cause of Beethoven’s death brought about by a number of factors, including his alcohol consumption, they said.

“We looked at possible genetic causes of his three main symptom complexes – the progressive hearing loss, the gastrointestinal symptoms and the liver disease ultimately leading to his death due to liver failure,” said Markus Nothen of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University Hospital of Bonn, one of the co-authors.

Beethoven, Nothen said, had “a strong genetic disposition to liver disease” and sequences of the hepatitis B virus were detected in his hair.

“We believe the disease arose from an interplay of genetic disposition, well documented chronic alcohol consumption and hepatitis B infection,” Nothen said.

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