(RoyalPatriot.com )- In a recent study, researchers used strands of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair to pull DNA in hopes of finding clues about what led to the German composer’s hearing loss and eventual death.
And while they were unable to find the cause of his stomach ailments or deafness, the researchers did discover a genetic risk for liver disease and a hepatitis B infection in the final months of his life.
According to a study published last Wednesday in Current Biology, the genetic risk for liver disease, coupled with Beethoven’s chronic drinking, likely caused the liver failure believed to have killed him on March 26, 1827, at the age of 56.
University Hospital of Bonn geneticist Axel Schmidt, the author of the study, said there has always been a mystery surrounding the death of Beethoven as scientists have long attempted to put together the pieces of the composer’s medical history and suggested several possible explanations for his many health problems.
But with recent technological advances in testing ancient DNA, the researchers were able to look for clues within the DNA from locks of Beethoven’s hair that had been preserved as keepsakes.
Cleaning the composer’s hair a strand at a time, the scientists then dissolved them into a solution to fish out chunks of DNA, according to Cambridge University biological anthropologist Tristan James Alexander Begg, one of the authors of the study.
From the chunks of DNA, the researchers were able to piece together a genome that they could use to find signs of genetic disease.
While no clear genetic signs of Beethoven’s stomach issues were found, the genome did reveal celiac disease and lactose intolerance. However, these were unlikely to have caused the gastrointestinal issues Beethoven experienced.
The DNA also confirmed that Beethoven’s ancestors originated in Central and Northern Europe, with most of them coming from around Bonn, the city in Germany where Beethoven was born.
The research also found something surprising.
While comparing the DNA from Beethoven to living members of the extended family, the researchers discovered a discrepancy in the Y chromosomes that come from the father’s side. While the Y chromosomes of the 5 male living family members all matched, their Y chromosomes did not match that of the late composer.
According to Begg, this suggests that at some point before Beethoven was born, someone in his family tree was born from an extramarital affair.