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DNA from Beethoven’s hair gives clues to ancestry, medical history and possible cause of death.


A new study published Wednesday reached several conclusions regarding Ludwig van Beethoven’s ancestry and medical history.

Genomic analysis examined the DNA of eight locks of hair attributed to the legendary composer.

The scientists found, among other things, that Beethoven had a genetic predisposition to liver diseaseas well as a liver-damaging hepatitis B infection in the months before his death.

These factors, along with Beethoven’s regular drinking, present “plausible explanations” for his death in 1827, the study authors said in the journal Current Biology.

Of the eight padlocks studied, one was a prominent historical artifact known as the “Hiller’s Lock,” which had been previously studied and was the subject of a best-selling documentary and book.

Studies of the lock had suggested that Beethoven might have died of lead poisoning. However, in this most recent analysis, investigations found that the lock had not belonged to Beethoven, but to a woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

Also, a family in Belgium thought to be related to Beethoven and sharing his last name is actually not directly related to him, according to the analysis.

The cause of this surprise was due to an “extra-pair paternity event” found in Beethoven’s patrilineal ancestry, linked to the individuals’ Y chromosomes.

The belief is that Ludwig van Beethoven’s grandmother may have had an extramarital affair that led to the birth of his father, says Maarten Larmuseau, co-author of the study and professor of genetic genealogy at the University of Leuven in Belgium.

The researchers couldn’t find answers related to Beethoven’s mysterious hearing loss that occurred when he was 20, or the gastrointestinal problems that plagued him throughout his life, but they ruled out celiac disease and lactose intolerance as unlikely causes.

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