When the biosphere, structures either man-made or natural and the human race can be harmed by weapons that are either nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical- they are known as weapons of mass destruction [1].

If opponents can be easily incapacitated or killed using naturally occurring organisms or toxins that are very difficult to see, their potency being high, easily accessible and delivered smoothly in the opponent's camp- one is dealing with biological weapons of mass destruction [2] .




Before 1000 B.C.E.

Usage of poisoned arrows by Scythian archers

Before 500 B.C.E.

Enemy wells were poisoned by the Assyrians

590 B.C.E.

Kirrha's water poisoned by the Greeks using Hellebore root

184 B.C.E.

Jars with snakes are flung towards by the Bithynians

1155 A.D.

Human bodies in a decomposed state act as a medium for poisoning water by Emperor Barbarossa

1346 A.D.

Persons suffering from plague are flung towards Caffa, by the Tartars

1495 A.D.

Wine is sold in Spain which has blood obtained from leprosy patients- to the enemy camp

1763 A.D.

Blankets filled with the smallpox virus are circulated amongst the native Americans by the British

1797 A.D.

To increase the prospects of malaria occurring in Mantua, the fields are flooded by Napoleon

1915 - 1918 A.D.

The four-legged creatures of the Allies are infected with the Anthrax virus by the Germans

1932 - 1945 A.D.

Humans are used as guinea pigs in China for research experiments

1966 A.D.

An anthrax stimulant, Bacillus globigii released in the New York metro station to know about its spread in a city

1972 A.D.

Biological Weapon and Toxin Convention (BWTC) signed by President Nixon

1984 A.D.

751 persons suffered from gastroenteritis in Oregon as the Salmonella species were detected in salad bars- a religious group poisoned its rival sect for elections

2001 A.D.

The infamous anthrax episode in the US- 5 innocent citizens lost their lives [3]

   ♦ TYPES:

The following biological agents or weapons are classified according to their ease of dissemination, morbidity as well as mortality rates and the required diagnostics and surveillance methods.

  • Category A -

a) Anthrax: The disease is highly infectious and is caused by Bacillus anthracis. The vaccine against anthrax is a potent weapon to fight the disease.

b) Smallpox: No treatment procedure exists for smallpox and hence, the lone option against the disease is to get vaccinated.

c) Botulism: The bacteria Clostridium botulinum, produces a toxin botulin that causes paralysis of the respiratory and musculoskeletal system. The most common sub-types of the disease are wound and infant botulism.

d) Plague: Humans suffer from plague when infected rodents bite them and are harbouring the bacteria Yersinia pestis.

e) Viral hemorrhagic fevers: Viruses belonging to varied families cause such fevers- Arenavirus, Flavivirus etc. Their severity can range from mild to severe to life-threatening.

  • Category B -

The agents which fall into this category are Salmonella, Typhus and Ricin.

  • Category C -

The agents in this category are Nipah virus and Hanta virus [4].


  • Argentina : The government of Argentina signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1979. Along with Brazil and Chile, the Mendonza Accord came into existence in 1991.

  • France : The biological weapons program flourished in France from 1921 to 1926 and from 1935 to 1940. It also conducted studies to know about agents such as Potato beetle, Salmonella etc. However, it became a member of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1984.

  • Iraq : Biological weapons program started flourishing in Iraq from 1985. Within two years, the capabilities had increased such that the state started inserting biologic weapons into 166 aerial bombs. Also, unimaginable quantities of botulinum toxin, anthrax and aflatoxin were also produced. Studies were carried out on Camelpox virus, enterovirus etc. It became a member of the BTWC in 1991.

  • Israel : It infected the Palestinian waters (near Haifa) in 1948 with the bacteria causing typhoid and dysentery. Israel has still not signed the BTWC.
  • Japan : Some time after the stoppage of the 2nd World War, the biological weapons program was wrapped up by the elected government. In 1972, Japan became a signatory to the BTWC.

  • South Africa : In the apartheid era, the biological weapons program was named Project Coast. A lot of biological agents came in to existence in the country such as Bacillus anthracis, Clostridium perfringens etc. The biological weapons program was stopped in 1993.

  • United Kingdom : For attacking the enemy, an extensive biological weapons program flourished from 1936 to 1956; for self-defense the same program exists till date.

  • United States : Its biological weapons were in existence from 1943 to 1969. The US signed the BTWC in 1975 [5].


In the years to come, synthetic biology would play a big role in the development of biological weapons e.g. combination of antimicrobial resistance genes and bacterial agents (Bacillus anthracis ineffective against ciprofloxacin). Such weapons could be used to incapacitate as well as kill people.

To counter such developments, following steps can be undertaken-

1. Consistent generation of diagnostic assays and vaccines, drugs etc for defense against biologic agents that have made their presence felt in the past. Such means of biological threats will be the ones causing the most destruction in the future.

2. Generation of host-specific medicines that would provide heightened immunity for a specific time period. This method would be for biological agents that are still to be singled out and named.

3. Special attention has to be paid to animals infected with the biological agents and existing near humans; the resulting diseases are termed as zoonosis. Hence, an in depth research has to be done to know more about microbes giving rise to wildlife diseases [6].


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weapon_of_mass_destruction

2. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/829613-overview

3. Frischknecht F. The history of biological warfare. Decontamination of warfare agents. 2008.


4. http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/health/publichealth/btprep/biologicalagents.htm


6. Casadevall A. The future of biological warfare. Microbial Biotechnology. 2012; 5(5): 584 - 587.

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