“What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven”.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven- (1770 – 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 arrangements for string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works, and songs.
Beethoven’s medical history can be reconstructed in remarkable detail thanks to his prominence and the consequent abundance of contemporary primary sources. Among these are reports written by Beethoven’s physicians, the conversation books which deafness obliged him to use from 1818 on and finally, Beethoven’s own letters to friends and family and the memoirs written by them. By scouring these sources for references to Beethoven’s hearing loss and to his other ailments, as well as his eating and drinking habits, it has been possible to obtain a fairly complete picture of developing deafness and of his other afflictions.
Around 1796, by the age of 26, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered from a severe form of tinnitus, a "ringing" in his ears that made it hard for him to hear music; he also tried to avoid conversations. The cause of Beethoven's deafness is unknown. But no fewer than forty historical sites attribute his possible deafness to the following. “The father was syphilitic, the mother tuberculous. Of the four children born, the first was blind, the second died, the third was deaf and dumb, and the fourth was also tuberculous.”
At about the same time as his hearing loss began, he noticed that his digestion also began to suffer. In an attempt to solve his own medical problems, he began to develop a liking for alcoholic beverages.
Beethoven died on 26 March 1827 at the age of 56. An autopsy revealed significant liver damage, which may have been due to his heavy alcohol consumption. The autopsy also revealed considerable dilation of the auditory and other related nerves. Examination did reveal the presence of arteriosclerosis, (plaque), in the auditory arteries. The exam did not reveal that his deafness was due to damage to the auditory nerve, (sensori-nerve), or thickening and fixation of the bones which conduct sound through the middle ear, (otosclerosis).
Additionally, some scientists have surmised that Beethoven may have been infected with Syphilis. But none of the classic symptoms of Syphilis such as swelling and irritation of the auditory nerves were present. There is also continuing debate about the possible other causes of Beethoven’s death: alcoholic cirrhosis, Typhus, infectious hepatitis. Lead poisoning, sarcoidosis and Whipple’s disease have all been proposed. The symptoms Beethoven exhibited in 1821 indicated that he contracted viral hepatitis at about the time and the progress of his liver disease was probably hastened by his continued consumption of considerable quantities of wine, beer, and spirits, ignoring as was his custom, his doctors’ directions. Much later, when all hope of his recovery had gone, his doctors let him have iced alcoholic beverages that gave him great relief. But the accumulated historical evidence also shows that Beethoven was not an alcoholic/. During the last five years of his life, his condition deteriorated steadily and there were increasing signs of hepatic, liver, failure that was in the end, a contributing factor in his death
TYPHUS: So let us examine these scenarios one by one. It was known that Beethoven had chronic active hepatitis that could have been related to alcoholism or to an infection with Typhus which is caused by a Rickettsial bacterial. Let us examine the possibility of Typhus. Typhus was rampant in Europe during Beethoven’s lifetime. During Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in 1812, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the Russians. Without treatment, death may occur in 10 - 60% of patients with Typhus. Patients over age 60 have the highest risk of death. Symptoms of Typhus include: abdominal pain, backache, dull red rash, extremely high fever (105 - 106 degrees Fahrenheit), which may last up to 2 weeks, hacking, dry cough, headache joint and muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. None of the conversation diaries indicated that Beethoven exhibited the majority of these symptoms.
SYPHILIS: Let us reexamine the idea of Syphilis. Several experts indicate that it was congenital syphilis – probably passed down from his father – that was the source of Beethoven’s ill health. Congenital syphilis does not usually affect its victims until they are in their 20s, which is consistent with when Beethoven started noticing his hearing problems. In fact, with the exception of his kidney problems, syphilis could explain all of Beethoven’s various ailments. Untreated Syphilis that has reached the tertiary stage, (or the third stage), often inflames the meninges, ( the outer coverings of the brain), This meningo-vascular syphilis would account for the frequent migraines that plagued Beethoven and for the condition of the auditory arteries that provide blood to the auditory nerves and the remaining parts of the ears. The use of Mercury as a treatment for Syphilis was common during Beethoven’s time and the symptoms of mercury intoxication along with the symptoms of advanced Syphilis could account for all of the patient’s symptoms. However, scientists in 2005 and 2011 have examined samples from Beethoven’s remains and looked for the presence of mercury, which would have suggested that Beethoven received medical treatment for syphilis.
ALCOHOLISM: Alcoholism could be directly connected to the subject’s hepatitis. Beethoven’s alcohol of choice was usually wine that had been sweetened with sugar of lead, lead (II) acetate. Like other lead (II) salts, lead (II) acetate has a sweet taste, which led to its use as a sugar substitute throughout history. The ancient Romans, who had few sweeteners besides honey, would boil grape juice in lead pots to produce a reduced sugar syrup. This syrup was used to sweeten wine and to sweeten and preserve fruit. This process continued well into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is possible that lead (II) acetate or other lead compounds leaching into the syrup might have caused lead poisoning in anyone consuming it. It is possible that as a result of this use of alcohol he developed lead poisoning accompanied by a severe inflammation of the intestine which later gave rise to severe intestinal pains. Initially, lead poisoning can be hard to detect — even people who seem healthy can have high blood levels of lead. Signs and symptoms usually don't appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated.
SARCOIDOSIS: Sarcoidosis is next on the list of suspects, Sarcoidosis is the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of your body — most commonly the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin. Doctors believe sarcoidosis results from the body's immune system responding to an unknown substance, most likely something inhaled from the air. Alternatively, signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis may last for years and sometimes lead to organ damage. For many people, sarcoidosis begins with these signs and symptoms: fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss. From the conversation diaries of Beethoven these were not the most troubling of his symptoms.
WHIPPLE’S DISEASE; Whipple’s disease is a rare, systemic infectious disease caused by the bacteriumTropheryma whipplei. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and joint pains. Sometimes, the joint pains occur many years before any digestive tract symptoms develop; they tend to involve the large joints but can occur in any pattern and tend not to damage the joint surface to the point that the joint becomes deformed. Fever and chills occur in a small proportion of people. 10–40% of people with Whipple's disease have problems related to involvement of the brain; the symptoms relate to the part of the brain that is affected. The most common problems are dementia, memory loss, confusion, and decreased level of consciousness. Eye movement disturbances and myorhythmia (rapidly repetitive movements of the muscles) of the face, together referred to as oculomasticatory myorhythmia, are highly characteristic for Whipple's disease. Weakness and poor coordination of part of the body, headaches, seizures, as well as a number of more uncommon neurological features, are present in some cases. Beethoven had none of the neurological symptoms associated with Whipple’s disease.
The evidence for examination comes from the friends and visitors that before and after his death clipped locks of his hair, some of which have been preserved and subjected to additional analysis, as have skull fragments removed during the 1862 exhumation. Some of these analyses have led to controversial assertions that Beethoven was accidentally poisoned to death by excessive doses of lead-based treatments administered under instruction from his doctor.
Hint from the master ;) Lead is a cumulative poison. In adults only 5%-10% of the ingested lead is absorbed with the remainder eliminated. One lead is absorbed by the body it is bound to the red blood cells and finally the cortical bone. Depending on the time of death during the poisoning event the location of the lead in the body will be indeterminate. Half- life of red blood cells is 30-60 days, soft tissue 30-60 days and bone 10-20 years +. Concentrations in soil frequently range from 150 mg/kg to as high as 10,000 mg/kg same as 150 to 10,000 ppm at the base of a home painted with lead based paint. Lead accumulates slowly in the body and even low doses can eventually lead to poisoning. 95% of lead in body is deposited in the bones and teeth while 99% of lead in blood is associated with erythrocytes.
Now the MATH: assuming a blood lead level of 100ug/dl and the average adult has 5L of blood. 100ug/dl is 100 ug/.
To change dl to Liters multiply by 10
So 100 ug/dl is 1000ug /Liter X 5 liters of blood volume is 5000ug/Liter in this human ‘s blood. 95% of lead in body is deposited in the bones so .95 x 5000ug is 4750 ug/lL in the bone of the victim
In the soil surrounding an un-embalmed body 4750 ug in 1 kg of soil = 4,75 ppm from the bone which is negligible.
THE LAB: The following activity is designed to demonstrate the techniques used by molecular geneticists and forensic pathologists. Today you will perform an activity known as DNA fingerprinting or electrophoresis. You have been provided with samples of mitochondrial DNA sequences. These samples are designed to represent one-half of a strand of replicated DNA. The base sequences found within these strands are unique to you and your maternal relatives and can be used as a means to identify a person from a sample of bodily fluid. With nuclear DNA, a child receives half of its DNA from each parent. In any given strand, half of the sequence will match the mother’s DNA and the other half will match the father’s DNA. In the case of mitochondrial DNA, an exact copy is inherited from your mother as it has been passed from all of the female relatives on your mother’s side of the family.
During the actual process of electrophoresis, DNA is removed from a tissue sample, (such as blood or hair). This DNA contains hundreds of copies of each DNA strand. The DNA molecules, hundreds of thousands of bases long, are cut into smaller pieces using several different restriction enzymes. These enzymes only cut the DNA where specific sequences of bases occur. The result of the enzyme activity is a pool of DNA fragments that are sorted by size. This is accomplished by taking advantage of the electrical charge on each one of the fragments. As an electric current is passed through a semi-permeable agarose gel the various fragments are pulled through the gel at different rates. The rate and distance migrated depends on the charge and the length of each of the pieces. The DNA is then treated so that the two strands come apart, exposing single strands of DNA bases. The gel is then transferred to a thick, sturdy piece of paper. The paper is then soaked in a solution containing tiny single stranded DNA fragments. These fragments are radioactive markers, called probes, which will attach to complementary bases in the cut up DNA strands. The treated paper will allow the probes to stick to the appropriate bases, and the remainder of the probes is washed away. The piece of paper is then placed on X-ray film, and the film is developed. A dark spot appears wherever a radioactive probe stuck to the DNA. The result is a unique pattern of spots called the DNA fingerprint. This fingerprint is unique to the individual, and can be repeated with tissue samples from any bodily fluid, with the exception of red blood cells, and achieve the same result. Why not red blood cells? Mature red blood cells do not contain a nucleus, and as a result do not contain enough reliable DNA to produce a true test. If red blood cells are the only source of DNA, the DNA must be cloned using a process known as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) so that enough DNA is present in order to get an accurate test. You will now use the materials provided to simulate such a test.
DNA sequence from skull fragment of Beethoven
DNA sequence from Beethoven’s Mother
DNA sequence from hair believed to belong to Beethoven
DNA sequence from Beethoven’s Father
DNA sequence standard to ensure the tests accuracy
Review your data table and you will see the labels that should be attached to create 5 separate columns, as seen in the example below.
known to belong
Hair believed to belong to Beethoven
MAKE SURE THAT YOU KEEP EACH PERSON’S DNA SEPARATE THROUGHOUT THIS ACTIVITY.
To simulate the action of radioactive probes use a highlighter and cover the letters CAT in each of your segments.
With your PENCIL you are going to simulate the action of a restriction enzyme. Scan your DNA strips until you find the letters “GG CC”. MARK across the strip between the letter G and C, you will be forming a fragment that ends with a GG and another that begins with a CC.
(Each sample has 5 of these sites so after cutting you will have 6 pieces. The standard contains 7 of these sites so you will have 8 fragments)
Count the number of bases in each fragment, (the number of letters). Match this number the chart provided. Then draw a line in the box that corresponds to the number of letters in that piece. Use your highlighter to mark the position of each of the CAT sequences in each piece on the line that you have drawn.
You will compare the DNA sequences from the skull fragments known to belong to Beethoven to the hair sample whose donor is still in question. You are attempting to determine if the hair and the skull fragments are from the same individual in this case Ludwig van Beethoven.
How will you know if the DNA samples are a match? How can you be sure that the samples are from the same individual? What further tests might you be able to conduct to determine the cause and manner if death for Beethoven?
SKULL FRAGMENT BELONGING TO BEETHOVEN
You will now perform a confirmatory test to determine the presence of lead in several of the skull fragment samples collected after the death of Beethoven. This is a colorimetric test that will measure the ppm (parts per million) or lead in each of the skull fragment samples.
LAB PART TWO:
You will perform a colorimetric test for the presence of lead in the skull fragments. Bear in mind that once you have used a portion of the sample for the test you have destroyed a portion of the skull fragment. So use the smallest samples possible to conduct your test.
Break off three small pieces from each of the skull fragments that have been provided to you.
In separate small micro-centrifuge tubes grind each of the skull fragments into a powder.
Add a drop of the lead indicator solution to each of the tubes and mix thoroughly.
If the sample changes color …this is a positive test for the presence of lead. The darker the color the greater the concentration. See the chart below.
Normal Level 6 ppm
100 ppm in bone
400 ppm in bone
600 ppm in bone
Now let’s do the math:
Level in the Bone
Level in blood
bone level/.95 in ppm
Level in blood in ug/L
same as ppm
Level in blood in ug/dl
ug/L / 10
Tissue in acidic soil decomposes three times faster than that in the alkaline. Decomposing bodies release ammonium ions, which raise the pH in the acidic soil, but don't significantly affect soil that is already alkaline. Adult bodies buried in a well-drained soil will become skeletonized in approximately 10 years. A child’s body in about five years. The rule of thumb for the decomposition of a body is that, at the same temperature, 8 weeks in well-drained soil equals two weeks in the water, or one week exposed to the air.