- Biological weapons are toxic materials produced from pathogenic organisms (usually microbes) or artificially manufactured toxic substances that are used to intentionally interfere with the biological processes of a host.
- These substances work to kill or incapacitate the host. Biological weapons may be used to target living organisms including humans, animals, or vegetation.
- They may also be used to contaminate nonliving substances such as air, water and soil.
There are a variety of microorganisms that can be used as biological weapons. Agents are commonly chosen because they are highly toxic, easily obtainable and inexpensive to produce, easily transferable from person to person, can be dispersed in aerosol form, or have no known vaccine.
Common microbes used as biological weapons include:
- Bacteria – these prokaryotic organisms are capable of infecting cells and causing disease. Bacteria cause diseases such as anthrax and botulism.
- Viruses – are about 1,000 times smaller than bacteria and require a host to replicate. They are responsible for disease including smallpox, flesh-eating disease, Ebloa disease, and Zika disease.
- Fungi – some of these eukaryotic organisms contain deadly toxins that are harmful to plants, animals, and humans. They cause diseases such as rice blast, wheat stem rust, aspergillosis (caused by inhaling fungal spores), and bovine foot rot.
- Toxins – poisonous substances that can be extracted from plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. Toxic substances that can be used as biological weapons include ricin and venom from animals such as snakes and spiders.
While it is possible to develop biological weapons from microbes, finding a means of distributing the substances is difficult.
One possible way is through aerosols. This can be ineffective as the materials often get clogged when spraying. Biological agents distributed by air may also be destroyed by UV light or rain may wash them away. Another method of distribution may be to attach the toxins to a bomb so that they may be released upon explosion. The problem with this is that the microbes will most likely be destroyed by the explosion as well. Toxins could be used to contaminate food and water supplies. This method would require extremely large amounts of toxin for a large scale attack.
A number of measures can be taken to protect individuals against biological attacks. Should an aerosol attack occur, removing your clothing and showering are good methods for removing toxins. Biological weapons don’t typically adhere to clothing or skin, but can be dangerous should they enter cuts or lesions on the skin. Protective clothing, such as masks and gloves, can provide protection against airborne particles. Other types of protective measures include administering antibiotics and vaccines.
Potential Biological Weapons
Below is a list of a few biological organisms that may potentially be used as biological weapons.
Mode of Contraction
Anthrax Bacillus anthracis
Humans, Domestic Animals
Open Wounds, Inhalation
Pulmonary Anthrax Septicemia, Flu-like symptoms
Contaminated Food or Water,
Intestines of humans and other animals, Soil
Humans, Domestic Animals
Gas gangrene, Severe Abdominal Cramps, Diarrhea
RICIN Protein Toxin
Extracted from Castor Bean Plants
Contaminated Food or Water, Inhalation, Injection
Severe Abdominal Pain, Watery and Bloody Diarrhea, Vomiting, Weakness, Fever, Cough, and Pulmonary Edema
Eradicated from Nature, Now Obtained from Laboratory Stockpiles
Direct Contact with Bodily Fluids or Contaminated Objects, Inhalation
Persistent Fever, Vomiting, Rash on Tongue and in Mouth, Rash and Bumps on Skin