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Farewell Frank Fenner, eradicator of smallpox

It's a cliché, I know - but a generation of scientists is passing whose like we truly may never see again. Frank Fenner has died in Australia, at the respectable age of 95, days after meeting his first great-grandchild.

And what a passing. Fenner comes from the era when so much was undiscovered that it was still possible to do earth-shattering work in several different areas of science.

He worked on malaria in Papua New Guinea during the second world war, then helped discover the basics of the immune system, the distinction of self from non-self, a concept that still informs immunology even though it has had to be modified. Some thought he should have shared in the 1960 Nobel awarded for that research to colleague MacFarlane Burnet and others.

He used the rabbit virus myxomatosis to control the Australian rabbit plague, saving native species and establishing the central paradigm for viral and host co-adaptation .

And alongside the more often-cited DA Henderson, he helped oversee the eradication of smallpox. Fenner made the famous proclamation that it was gone, in Geneva in 1980, and co-authored with Henderson what was then the definitive report on how to eradicate a disease.

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