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Unraveling Beethoven’s Health and Ancestry Through Genetic Sequencing of his DNA

A team of international scientists has sequenced Ludwig van Beethoven’s genome using five locks of his hair, which has revealed new insights into the composer’s family history and health. Published in Current Biology, the study was led by researchers from the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, the American Beethoven Society, KU Leuven, FamilyTreeDNA, the University Hospital Bonn and the University of Bonn, the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Beethoven’s health problems, including his progressive hearing loss, have been long debated. The team of researchers examined genetic data from the hair samples to look for possible genetic causes of his hearing loss, as well as his chronic gastrointestinal complaints, and a severe liver disease that led to his death at age 56. Although the team found significant genetic risk factors for liver disease, no clear genetic origin for Beethoven’s hearing loss was identified. The research also revealed evidence of an infection with the Hepatitis B virus in the months before the composer’s final illness.