Beethoven's Death Revealed: Genetic Analysis Uncovers Likely Cause of Famous Composer's Demise

Ludwig van Beethoven died in Vienna about two hundred years ago after a lifetime of composing some of the most influential works in classical music — and biographers have long struggled to clarify his death. The German composer died at the age of fifty-six after lengthy struggles with chronic illness and progressive hearing loss. An international team of researchers who sequenced Beethoven's genome using authenticated locks of his hair may presently have some answers. Liver failure, or cirrhosis, was the likely ca of Beethoven's death, brought about by a no of factors, including alcohol consumption, they said.

“We looked at possible genetic cas of his three main symptom complexes — the progressive hearing loss, the gastrointestinal symptoms and the liver sickness ultimately leading to his death due to liver failure,” said Markus Nothen of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Univ Hospital of Bonn. Beethoven, Mister Nothen said, had “a powerful genetic disposition to liver disease” and sequences of the hepatitis B virus were detected in his hair. “We believe the sickness arose an interplay of genetic disposition, well-documented chronic alcohol consumption and hepatitis B infection,” Mister Nothen said. The authors of a study on Beethoven's death, published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Wednesday, were unable to define any genetic cas for the progressive hearing loss that eventually left the composer totally deaf by one thousand eight hundred eighteen.

The researchers analysed eight locks of hair said to be Beethoven and determined that five of them were “almost certainly authentic”, said Tristan Begg, a doctoral learner at the Univ of Cambridge and lead author of the study. “Beca we reconstructed the genome ultra-short DNA fragments, we only confidently mapped about two thirds of it.” Beethoven, who was born in Bonn in one thousand seven hundred-seventieth and died in one thousand eight hundred twenty-seventh, battled gastrointestinal problems at various times of his life as well as jaundice. “There were periods of acute illness he was unable to work — for example, his month-long period of acute illness in the spring of one thousand eight hundred twenty-five,” Mister Begg said. The researchers, by studying Beethoven's DNA data and archival documents, also uncovered a discrepancy in his valid and biological genealogy.

They found an “extra-pair paternity event” — which appears in children resulting an extramarital relationship — in Beethoven's direct paternal line, said Toomas Kivisild of the Institute of Genomics at the Univ of Tartu. Mister Kivisild said it occurred sometime within seven generations that separate a common ancestor, Aert van Beethoven, at the finish of the sixteenth cent and Beethoven's birth in one thousand seven hundred-seventieth. “You cannot regulation out that Beethoven himself may have been illegitimate,” Mister Begg said. Beethoven had asked in an one thousand eight hundred two letter to his brothers that his health problems, particularly his hearing loss, be described after his death. “He had the wish to be studied postmortem,” Mister Kra said. “And it's kind of, basically, his wish that we're fulfilling to some degree with this project.”

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