Harley, John P. Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky.
Last reviewed:May 2020
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- Historical background: fourteenth century to the present
- Biological agents posing the greatest threat
- Defenses against biological weapons
- Trends in counterbioterrorism
- Misuse of genomics
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
A form of terrorism in which there is the intentional release of biological agents (viruses, bacteria, fungi, or toxins) from living organisms or agents in order to cause death or disease in humans, animals, and/or plants; also referred to as biowarfare or germ warfare, particularly when practiced by military forces. Terrorism is defined by the U.S. government as the “unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The term bioterrorism does not imply that only biological agents are used in a particular attack. For example, terrorists can also utilize traditional weapons (for example, guns), chemical agents, or nuclear bombs. Although a biological agent may injure or kill humans, animals, or plants, the main aim of terrorists is to further their social and political goals by making their civilian targets feel that their government cannot protect them (Fig. 1). There are many biological agents found in nature; however, they also can be modified by the terrorist to make them even more dangerous. Some of these agents can be transmitted from person to person, and the infection may take hours or days to become apparent. A topic of growing concern is agroterrorism—the use of microbes to terrorize humans by destroying the food supply. See also: Bacteria; Bacteriology; Biotechnology; Fungi; Fungi and fungal toxins as weapons; Toxin; Virus
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