Has the cause of his death been discovered?
Ledwig van Beethoven (Photo: GettyImages)
Ludwig van Beethoven shared his health problems with the world near the end of his life, but despite this, the cause of his death remains a mystery.
Now, new research sheds some light on what might have contributed to his death after sequencing his entire genome from the ends of a single hair.
The German composer died on March 26, 1827, so genetic analysis was then out of the question.
Fortunately, researchers had eight hair samples to work from that he allegedly left behind, but only five of them were considered authentic.
And yet they were enough to sequence Beethoven's genome to a high coverage.
This move raised some clues as to what may have contributed to his failing health in the last years of his life and subsequent death.
"Our main goal was to shed light on Beethoven's health problems, which included a progressive decline in hearing, starting in his mid-20s and eventually leading to him becoming deaf in 1818," said Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
The study was published in Current Biology.
The ends of Beethoven's hair (photo: official website, American Beethoven Society / Kevin Brown)
"We were unable to find an absolute cause for Beethoven's deafness or gastrointestinal problems. However, we discovered several significant genetic risk factors for liver disease," Krause added.
"We also found evidence of hepatitis B infection at least in the months before the composer's final illness. All of these probably contributed to his death."
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The research may also have uncovered an extramarital "event" in the Van Beethoven family history, as it was discovered that Ludwig's Y chromosome did not match that of his known relatives.
The find suggests that an affair may have occurred in his paternal line.
The findings seem to contradict previous assumptions that Beethoven died due to hereditary diseases, or that he died of lead poisoning as assumed from a previous hair sample that turned out to belong to a female.
This latest study concludes that the combination of his increased alcohol consumption with his genetic predisposition to liver disease, and confirmed hepatitis B infection point to severe liver problems as a likely cause of his death.