Study Using DNA from Beethoven’s Hair Offers Valuable Information about Deadly Liver Disease

Study Using DNA from Beethoven’s Hair Offers Valuable Information about Deadly Liver Disease
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Nearly 200 years after his passing, Ludwig van Beethoven’s genome was sequenced using five hair strands. This allowed researchers to learn more about his fatal liver disease as opposed to his hearing loss.

The German composer had a hepatitis B virus infection and a genetic predisposition to liver disease, according to researchers who examined his genome.

After his 1827 passing at the age of 56 in Vienna, an autopsy revealed that he had liver cirrhosis, a condition frequently brought on by excessive drinking.

The latest research indicates that his liver disease might have been caused by a number of factors, including genetics, viral infection, and alcohol use.

Tristan Begg, the lead author of the research published in the journal Current Biology, shared that “Beethoven’s liver disease risk, which comes mainly from mutations in 2 genes – PNPLA3 and HFE – would’ve roughly tripled his risk for the entire spectrum of progressive liver disease. On their own, such risk factors aren’t of great concern to most of those who have them, but there would’ve been a harmful interaction effect with his alcohol consumption. Prior to the study, alcohol was the only certain risk factor for Beethoven’s liver disease.”

Beethoven’s genome contained the hepatitis B virus, which suggested a liver infection occurred at least a few months before his passing and possibly earlier.

Beethoven began to lose his hearing gradually at the age of 29, and by the time he was 44, he was completely deaf. Despite this, he continued to create his masterworks.

Begg explained that “We were unable to find a genetic explanation for Beethoven’s hearing loss, although this by no means precludes such an explanation, as a few possible explanations couldn’t be reliably or comprehensively evaluated.”

For conditions that some experts had hypothesized existed, like otosclerosis or Paget’s disease, there was no evidence discovered during the study.

In a document known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven requested in 1802, that his physician disclose his hearing loss and other medical conditions in the public domain after his passing so that “as far as possible, the world will be reconciled to me, at least.”

“Beethoven’s music continues to inspire millions almost 200 years after his death. It was valuable to carry out the study first to attempt to satisfy his own wishes regarding the understanding of his health, but also in the interest of more accurately conveying all the facts of his biography, which was of importance to him as well,” Begg went on to say.

Eight hair strands from both public and private collections in the US and Europe were examined by the researchers, and it was found that 5 of them matched and were nearly definitely authentic as his.

The genome of the man who once owned the best-preserved one was sequenced using the Stumpff Lock, so named after the man who once owned it.


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Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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