March 29, 2023
Beethoven is a name famous the world over, a child prodigy piano player, and prolific music writer who tragically began going deaf in his twenties. His 722 musical works (including 9 symphonies) live on, cementing his legacy as perhaps the most influential classical Western composer, long after his untimely death in 1827. But what caused his death? Is there any way to know after almost 200 years? Some say yes.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have taken an unusual approach to determine the cause of Beethoven’s death. They have looked at the locks of the deceased composer’s hair. Beethoven was plagued by a number of health issues throughout his life, including gastrointestinal trouble, progressive hearing loss, and liver problems including jaundice. The team from Cambridge have been able to analyze the DNA found in locks of hair believed to have belonged to Beethoven, owned by his family, as well as collectors. From the hair, researchers have been able to map out the composer’s genome.
W the team cannot be 100% certain this man is indeed Beethoven, they are ‘extremely confident’ it is given the origin of the samples. From five hair samples, the researchers can tell that Beethoven had several genetic risk factors for liver disease. These risk factors include the PNPLA3 gene, which would have tripled the likelihood Beethoven would develop liver problems. The genetic information also showed evidence that Beethoven had hepatitis B, which when combined with sustained alcohol consumption, and the PNPLA3 gene, would create a high-risk combination of factors that likely resulted in his death by liver disease at age 56. Interestingly the genetic information was unable to provide any clues as to what caused Beethoven’s progressive hearing loss, but there may be further medical discoveries in the future that may provide hints to the cause of this condition.
Source: Science News
Read more: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/beethoven-hair-dna-composer-death