At one time or another, humans have turned to just about every viable option on the planet for new means of destroying one another. We've leveled forests, plundered the elements and diverted religion, philosophy, science and art to fuel humanity's desire for bloodshed. Along the way, we've even weaponized some of nature's most formidable viral, bacterial and fungal foes.
The use of biological weapons, or bioweapons, dates back to the ancient world. As early as 1,500 B.C. the Hittites of Asia Minor recognized the power of contagions and sent plague victims into enemy lands. Armies, too, have long understood the power of bioweapons, catapulting diseased corpses into besieged fortresses and poisoning enemy wells. Some historians even argue that the 10 biblical plagues Moses called down against the Egyptians may have been more of a concentrated campaign of biological warfare rather than the acts of a vengeful god [source: NPR].
Since those early days, advances in medical science have led to a vastly improved understanding of harmful pathogens and the way our immune systems deal with them. But while these advancements have led to vaccinations and cures, they have also led to the further weaponization of some of the most destructive biological agents on the planet.
The first half of the 20th century saw the use of the biological weapon anthrax by both the Germans and Japanese, as well as the subsequent development of biological weapons programs in nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia. Today, biological weapons are outlawed under 1972's Biological Weapons Convention and the Geneva Protocol. But while a number of nations have long destroyed their stockpiles of bioweapons and ceased research into their proliferation, the threat remains.
In this article, we'll examine some of the leading bioweapon threats, as well as what the future of biological warfare may have in store for us all.
Robert Lamb is a senior writer and host at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind. An avid science enthusiast, he boasts a deep love for monsters and a hankering for electronic music.