Biological agents: weapons of warfare and bioterrorism

Mol Diagn. 2001 Dec;6(4):323-33. doi: 10.1054/modi.2001.29155.


The use of microorganisms as agents of biological warfare is considered inevitable for several reasons, including ease of production and dispersion, delayed onset, ability to cause high rates of morbidity and mortality, and difficulty in diagnosis. Biological agents that have been identified as posing the greatest threat are variola major (smallpox), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Yersinia pestis (plague), Clostridium botulinum toxin (botulism), Francisella tularensis (tularaemia), filoviruses (Ebola hemorrrhagic fever and Marburg hemorrhagic fever), and arenaviruses Lassa (Lassa fever) and Junin (Argentine hemorrhagic fever). The pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of these agents are discussed. Rapid identification and diagnosis using molecular diagnostic techniques such as PCR is an essential element in the establishment of coordinated laboratory response systems and is the focus of current research and development. Molecular techniques for detection and identification of these organisms are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Warfare / prevention & control
  • Biological Warfare / trends*
  • Bioterrorism / prevention & control
  • Bioterrorism / trends*
  • Humans