Did Beethoven have a genetic predisposition to music: scientists examined DNA

Did Beethoven have a genetic predisposition to music: scientists examined DNA


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Ludwig van Beethoven is a world-famous German composer and the last representative of the “Viennese classics” of the XVIII-XIX centuries. Everyone knows the Symphony No5 and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, but many wonder how he became such a great musician, especially after losing his hearing at a young age.

A team of German and Dutch researchers decided to find out to what extent genetic factors influenced Beethoven’s exceptional achievements. writes MedicalXPress.

It turns out that one of the most famous musicians in history actually had a rather low genetic predisposition to a sense of rhythm. Scientists published more detailed conclusions in the journal Current Biology.

An international team from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) and the Institute for Psycholinguistics (MPI-PL) in Nijmegen (Netherlands) worked on the study.

First, scientists analyzed DNA from a lock of Beethoven’s hair and examined genes for musical tendencies. The DNA sequences were taken from the previous one researchcompleted in 2023 (by the way, it revealed that Beethoven had a predisposition to liver disease, hepatitis B, and also suffered from stomach disorders).

Then the scientists calculated the so-called “polygenic score” – an indicator of a person’s genetic predisposition to a certain trait or behavior. The resulting figure was compared with the results of thousands of patients from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Vanderbilt University in the US, among whom were many people with musical abilities.

“We calculated a ‘polygenic score’ for the ability to synchronize rhythm, which is closely related to musical ability. Before conducting any analysis, we registered the study and emphasized that we had no prior expectations about Beethoven.

Instead, we wanted to give an example of how difficult it is to make genetic predictions for a person who lived more than 200 years ago.” – says the author of the study, Laura Wesseldike.

It turned out that Beethoven had an unremarkable polygenic indicator of “musicality”. However, scientists say that this finding is not unexpected.

First, estimates based on the “polygenic score” are not accurate. Secondly, even a high genetic index of “ability to synchronize rhythm” does not directly affect compositional abilities.

After all, a person’s musical ability consists of many components, not just a sense of rhythm.

“Obviously, it would be wrong to draw conclusions from Beethoven’s low polygenic rate. We believe that the large discrepancy between this DNA-based prediction and Beethoven’s actual musical genius has a lot to teach us.

For example, it proves that you should be skeptical if someone claims that they can use a genetic test to determine with certainty whether your child will be musically gifted – or particularly talented in some other area.”– comments the senior co-author of the study, Simon Fisher.

The researchers emphasize that genes do influence people’s musical abilities (past studies have shown an average heritability of such abilities of about 42%).

However, DNA data cannot accurately predict the behavior of an individual. Genetic predispositions influence a person’s future, but do not completely determine it, scientists emphasize.

“It is important to remember that human traits, in particular musical abilities, are not determined solely by genes or the environment, but are formed as a result of their interaction”the article says.

We will remind, earlier scientists discovered DNA of Neanderthal “cousins” in modern humans, which affects our fertility, immune system, and even to fight the COVID-19 virus.

Geneticists also explained why the inhabitants of the Andes and Himalayas survive so well in the mountains.


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