The study published today in Current Biology has revealed that Beethoven’s DNA has been analyzed after 200 years from locks of hair.
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In a finding almost 200 years in the making, researchers have analyzed Beethoven’s DNA using samples of hair to better understand the ailments that famously plagued the composer.
The researchers’ analysis shows that neither his hearing loss nor his frequent stomach issues were caused by Beethoven’s genes. However, the liver disease that ultimately led to his death probably did have a genetic basis and was spurred on by a lingering hepatitis B infection.
Plus, in a surprising twist that came about through the genetic analysis and reconstructing potential family trees, researchers have uncovered that someone on Beethoven’s father’s side had an extramarital affair resulting in a child. It may even have been Beethoven’s father, potentially making Beethoven an illegitimate son.
The work was inspired by a wish Beethoven made in an 1802 document, where he requested that doctors investigate the cause of his hearing loss and that the findings be made public. The study is published today in Current Biology.
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Probably the most well known of Beethoven’s health problems is his hearing loss—which led Beethoven to shutter himself away and contemplate suicide. But the artist was also plagued with bouts of pain in his ribs and gut and extreme weakness stemming from issues with his digestive system, as well as jaundice from his failing and scarred liver.
Medical biographers have previously pieced together a picture of Beethoven’s health mostly from letters he wrote and diaries he kept, as well as written accounts from his physician and an autopsy report following his death. Some have also performed chemical analysis on the composer’s hairs and bits of his skull. Some of these samples have been deemed inauthentic.
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