Saturday, November 18, 2023

Beethoven: What Truly Caused His Death?

  Just imagine being able to go back in time and meeting any of your favorite idols. Unfortunately, this is not possible, but we can learn a lot about them in various ways, especially with surviving samples of their DNA. The well-renown German composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, had multiple locks of his hair (some samples shown to be inauthentic or inconclusive) passed down from generation to generation. Tristen Begg and other researchers from the University of Cambridge (starting in 2014) analyzed the authentic samples to better understand the factors behind his death (known to be plagued by various health problems throughout his lifetime). After reconstructing Beethoven's genome, the research team was able to not only find a gene variant (PNPLA3) which increases the risks of liver disease but also traces of Hepatitis B (further increasing his susceptibility to infection).

  With all the evidence provided, it's logical to assume this is how he died. Especially, considering the fact nearing his death, he was a heavy drinker which would have caused additional damage unto his liver. Yet, what if the hair provided was not from Beethoven? It was found that the Y-chromosome in the samples were inconsistent with living relatives of an ancestor of Beethoven. Does that mean all that work was meaningless? Not exactly. As shown from within the article, one of Beethoven's ancestor's (paternal side) may have had a child outside of marriage. It's a plausible presumption and could further build onto what we know about his ancestry. If we had more DNA samples from famous figures in the past, imagine how much further we could delve into the unknowns of history.


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