Looking into Ludwig
Scientists sequence Beethoven's DNA, 200 years after his death
Scientists announced Wednesday that they had sequenced the genome of legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven, nearly two centuries after his death. His DNA was able to provide valuable insights into the composer's lifelong health problems and ultimate demise.
The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, were made possible after a team of international researchers pulled DNA from locks of Beethoven's hair. Using these strands, they were able to sequence the composer's entire genome.
Beethoven is perhaps best known for his deafness, which began in his 20s. While researchers were unable to pinpoint the cause of his hearing loss, "they did find a genetic risk for liver disease, plus a liver-damaging hepatitis B infection in the last months of his life," The Associated Press reported. It is widely believed that Beethoven died from liver failure attributed to alcoholism, but these new revelations about his health have helped unlock a new piece of the puzzle.
The composer was besieged by many other health problems in the lead-up to his death, which occurred 196 years ago this Sunday, on March 26, 1827. While the hepatitis B infection only directly afflicted him during the last years of his life, it is possible that he could have been infected with the disease at birth, Arthur Kocher, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, told The New York Times.
The Times also noted the study revealed another twist about Beethoven: he was genetically unrelated to others in his family, with his Y chromosome DNA being different than five living people today who share a common ancestor.
"It isn't so much the specific questions they answered as the fact that they ruled a few things out, searched for others, and made some truly original findings," Robert C. Green, a geneticist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told The Washington Post.