Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Ludwig Beethoven: Hints About His Cause of Death with Comments about His Hearing Loss

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society, History of Science, Narure of Science

Ed Hessler 

Long before he died, composer Ludwig van Beethoven made a request of his brothers. In the reporting by Dyani Lewis, Nature News he wanted them "to seek out his physician and to 'beg him in my name to describe my malady (hearing loss and deafness)."

Lewis goes on to describe recently published research. The current technology of genomics research -- "methods for sequencing DNA from centuries-old, degraded samples" (locks of hair) - has allowed researchers to look for "known disease-causing genetic sequences." 
No genetic sequences typically associated with hearing sequences were found but what was found "suggests that Beethoven probably died from liver disease brought on by a combination of viral hepatitis, alcohol consumption and genetic factors."

The evidence from the DNA extraction "showed that Beethoven had two copies of a particular variant (of a gene) that has been linked to liver cirrhosis." He also had single copies of two variants (of a gene" that cause "hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition that damages the liver." Furthermore, it is known from historical records that Beethoven was a "heavy drinker" with consumption increasing as he grew older. 

Lewis's reporting explores more deeply death from liver disease and genetic issues, e.g.,  searching for genetic sequences for other diseases associated with deafness and speculation about a well-known medical condition for which no genetic sequence has yet been found.

Walther Parson, Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria closes the reporting. He told Lewis that "now that Beethoven's genetic information is publicly available, it will probably spur amateur sleuths to investigate further and explore how they might be related to the renowned composer. 'Like all good stories, it leaves us with as many questions as answers.'"

Dyani Lewis' reporting may be found here as well as a link to the scientific paper on which it is based which is open-access which include information about the authors. The research was published in Current Biology which has a feature I appreciate: research highlights, research summary, and a graphical abstract. There is a photo of one of the lock samples for which you must scroll down. This is a substantial paper, e.g., the PDF option is 40 pp long. Take a scroll.

I always look at the title chosen for reporting the research and the title of the scientific paper.

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