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Johan Hultin Dies

Johan Hultin, who found victims of the 1918 influenza outbreak buried within permafrost, has died, the New York Times reports. He was 97.

According to the Times, Hultin, then a medical student at Uppsala University who spending a year at the University of Iowa, first set off in 1951 to find victims of the flu outbreak in Alaska whose remains were frozen in the permafrost. While he did find and collect samples then, with permission from the village council, Hultin was unable to grow the virus in the lab. But a 1997 Science from Jeffery Taubenberger, now at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sent Hultin, who had been working in private practice in San Francisco as a pathologist, back to collect more samples, the Times says.

This enabled Taubenberger and his colleagues to generate the genetic sequence of the deadly flu virus's hemagglutinin gene and, eventually, all of its viral genes, the Times says. "Dr. Hultin's discovery was crucial to finding the genetic sequence of the virus, allowing researchers to examine what made it so lethal and how to recognize it if it came again," it adds.