Scientific Aspects of Control of Biological Weapons.

01 July 1995

Biological weapons (BW) are living, i.e. self-replicating, microorganisms which are intended to be spread deliberately in aerosols, food or water to cause disease or death in man, animals or plants. They are usually bacteria or viruses; anthrax bacilli and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus are typical examples.

The term BW is also used for toxins, non-living poisons of biological origin, which are either lethal like botulinum toxin or incapacitating like staphylococcus enterotoxin B. These four and about eight other agents were stockpiled for use as BW during the second world war and its after­math. In the past two decades, the potential danger from BW has increased for two main reasons. First, the rapid progress of biotechnology and the advent of genetic manipula­tion have made it possible to produce many new agents. Second, as was emphasized by the Gulf War, BW are particularly attractive to some developing countries because they can be produced cheaply with relatively moderate facilities and be used in covert oper­ations. The escalating dangers must be controlled.