Basically different biologists have defined this term in different ways;

1: Bioweapons are the biological agents derived from the living organisms that are capable of infecting and causing both sickness and death in people, animals and plants.

2: Bioweapons sometimes are called biowarfare which means that intentional use of microorganisms or toxins derived from living organisms of as an act of war or political violence with intent to cause death or disease in human, animal or in plants (1)

3: Biological warfare (BW) – also called germ warfare. It is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war.

4: Biological weapons (often termed “bio-weapons”, “biological threat agents”, or “bio-agents”) are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses, which are not universally considered “alive”) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims.

5: Biological warfare agents are likely to be selected for their ability to either incapacitate or kill human targets of attack.

Types of Bioweapons:

There are seven types of biological agents:

1: Parasites

2: Fungi and yeasts

3: Bacteria

4: Rickettsia and chlamydia

5: Viruses

6: Prions

7: Toxins

8: Insects

Among the biological agent only bacteria, viruses and toxins are considered when referring to agents that can be used in a biological attack. While toxins are included in the list of biological agents, they are not living organisms, but small proteins produced by bacteria that can poison to a person, animal or plant. Bacteria, viruses and toxins can be spread through the contamination of food, water or fomites; via vectors such as insects; or as aerosols suspended in wet or dry formulations (2).

Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of biological weapon.

This type of warfare is distinct from nuclear warfare and chemical warfare. None of these falls under the term conventional weapons which are primarily effective due to their destructive potential. Biological weapons (BWs) deliver toxins and microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria, so as to deliberately inflict disease among people, animals, and agriculture. Biological attacks can result in destruction of crops, temporarily discomforting a small community, killing large numbers of people, or other outcomes.

Classification of Bioweapons:

There are four classifications for how biological agents can be used to harm or kill a person, animal or plant.

1: Biological Warfare (BW): It is the military use of biological agents, where targets of agents are predominately soldiers, governments, or resources that might hinder a nations ability to attack and/or defend it.

2: Bioterrorism (BT): It is the threat or use of biological agents that, like most forms of terrorism, is intended to make political, religious or personal statements to governments and populations through attacks primarily aimed at civilians or resources that affect the civilian economy. With few exceptions, bioterrorism is non-state sponsored.

3: Biocrime (BC): It is the threat or use of biological agents for individual objectives such as revenge or financial gain.

4: Bioaccident (BA): It is defined as the unintentional release of an agent from a laboratory or other facility. Biocrimes and Bioaccidents comprise events that typically have small effects on populations and do not require specific plans for large-scale preparedness and response (3).

Categories of Bioweapons:

The Critical Agent List classifies a relatively short list of possible biological weapons to be used in either biological warfare or bioterrorism, and was created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in conjunction with military, intelligence, medical and public health agencies: (20)

1: Category A includes the highest priority agents because they are most likely to cause mass casualties, create panic and require a specific public health response. According to intelligence sources, these are the agents that are most likely to be used in a future attack, and are being researched and weaponized by biowarfare programmes around the world.

2: Category B is the second highest priority agents, including those that could contaminate food or water, are relatively easy to disseminate, and require enhanced disease surveillance and diagnostic capacity. Many of these agents, such as brucellosis, glanders and ricin, were either weaponized by state-sponsored programmes in the past, or utilized successfully in biological warfare or terrorist incidents

3: Category C includes emerging pathogens that could be weaponized in the future because of the relative ease of accessing, producing and disseminating the agents, as well as the high levels of morbidity and mortality these agents would cause. (4)

Although the CDC has been able to categorize a list of agents that are likely to be used as bioweapons, there are additional diseases and variations of biological agents that are of great concern. The Critical Agent List specifies only twenty-one diseases, but there are at least seventy different types of biological agents that can be weaponized, not including agents that do not already exist in nature. Of the disease caused by these seventy agents, only 20-30 per cent is currently treatable through reliable methods. (5)


There is a long history of nations and peoples using biological agents as weapons. Many examples of use have been cited from as long ago as 190 BC, where Hannibal used venomous snakes to disrupt the enemy ships of Pergamus in Eurymedon. Biological weapons have a long history of use. In 1346, the invading Tartar army catapulted the bodies of plague victims into the Crimean Peninsula city of Kaffa and infected its citizens. Another example of biological warfare often referred to in the historical record is the use of smallpox during the French and Indian War in 1763. Through the combined ingenuity of British Officers Sir Jeffrey Amherst and Colonel Henry Bouquet, smallpox infested blankets were given to the Indians at Fort Pitt, setting off an epidemic of smallpox that rendered the Indian tribes incapable of fighting off the British settlers(6). In this instance, it is not clear if the blankets themselves caused the outbreak of smallpox or whether it was due to previous exposure to the Europeans. Regardless, this method of biological warfare was used again during the American Civil War, when Dr. Luke Blackburn of Kentucky sold smallpox and yellow fever infected clothing to Union troops in an effort to support the efforts of the Confederacy. There were also reports that the Germans used plague against the Russians in 1915, and attempted to use cholera against Italy (7). Between 1933 and the late 1940s, Japan researched biological warfare at a compound known as Unit 731, where over 10,000 prisoners of war used for research purposes died of anthrax, meningitis, cholera and plague. Japan followed its experiments with prisoners of war by using biological agents against the people of China, causing outbreaks of typhus, cholera and plague, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Chinese civilians.(19) One method used by the Japanese in Manchuria was dropping rice and plague infected fleas out of airplanes. The rice attracted rats, which then became infected with the fleas, thus creating efficient epidemiologic conditions by which the disease spread to humans over a large geographic area(8).

The authors are from the Department of Botany, Hazara University Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, Pakistan; and Department of Biochemistry University of Agriculture Faisalabad Pakistan, and Dr. Sikander Khan Sherwani, is a faculty member of FAUUST. They can be reached at <>

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