Introduction to Biological World

To understand the response actions and tools to tackle biological threats, and their possible spreading, we first need to understand the biological agent’s nature and risks, to know what type of agents we are dealing with, and what are these specifications.

Biological agents have a normal natural background, but these agents can be modified to be more lethal or to cause incapacitating effects over an extensive area. In addition this type of agent can also reproduce. The delayed symptoms, together with detection and identification difficulties, are relevant advantages if the enemy decides to use these agents.

Biological agents (in this content biological weapon agents or other virulent disease agents) may be released to the environment from biological facilities as result of an accident, sabotage, or an attack on the installation. Biological facilities may resemble common industrial or health facilities. The hazardous material can be released in large amounts over an extended area. These agents may persist inside the facility and/or in the environment from days to years, depending on the agents and local conditions.

Overall Information of Biological Agents


Bacteria are microscopic and single-celled organisms. Only a few bacteria are militarily significant, even though the bacteria are innumerable. Only about hundred from thousands are known to be pathogenic. Some of these are human selected parasites, but many are zoonotic and transmittable from animal to human. Bacterial agents are pathogenic to human, plants, and animals either by causing infectious diseases or by producing toxins. The antibiotics can control successfully some bacterial infections. Examples of bacterial agents are anthrax, brucellosis, plague and tularemia.


Viruses are all parasites that live in the cells of their selected host. These parasites cause about 60 percent of all infectious diseases. Once the virus enters a living cell, it is capable of replicating itself by taking over the metabolic process of the invaded cell. The infected cell either degenerates or dies, transforms to a non-functioning state, or survives without transformation with evidence of the presence of one of more viral components.  Viruses do not respond to antibiotics treatment, but some may be treated by antiviral compounds. Examples of viruses area Smallpox (Variola major), Filoviruses (Ebola, Marburg), Lassa fever, Yellow Fever, and Hanta Viruses.

Biological toxins

Biological toxins are chemicals of natural origin produced by living organisms, like an animal, a fish, a plant or a micro-organism. Toxins are very stable and some of them are susceptible to heat while others are heat-stable. Their effects on humans range from minor illness to death when ingested, inhaled, or entered into the body by any other means. Toxins are not sensitive to antibiotics, but there are antidotes and detoxicants for some toxins. Example of toxins are toxin of Ricinus communis, Botulinum (clostrium botulium toxin), Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), and Tricholthecene Mycotoxins (T2s).

Biological Agents’ Categorisation by Risk

Category A Biological Agents

High-priority agents and organisms that pose a risk to national security. These can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person. These agents have high mortality rates, potential for major public health impact, and might cause public panic and social disruption. These agents require special action for public health preparedness.

Category A agents are: Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis), Botulism (Clostridium botulinum toxin), Plague (Yersinia pestis), Smallpox (variola major), Tularemia (Francisella tularensis), Viral hemorrhagic fevers, including Filoviruses (Ebola, Marburg) and Arenaviruses (Lassa, Machupo).

Category B Biological Agents

This category is for those agents that are moderately easy to disseminate. These agents have moderate morbidity rates and low mortality rates. Category B agents require specific enhancement diagnostic capacity and enhanced disease surveillance.

Category B agents are:
Brucellosis (Brucella species), Epsilon toxin of Clostridium perfringens, Food safety threats (Salmonella species, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Shigella), Glanders (Burkholderia mallei), Melioidosis (Burkholderia pseudomallei), Psittacosis (Chlamydia psittaci), Q fever (Coxiella burnetii), Ricin toxin (Ricinus communis, castor beans), Staphylococcal enterotoxin B, Typhus fever (Rickettsia prowazekii), Viral encephalitis (alphaviruses; eastern equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and western equine encephalitis) and, water safety threats (Vibrio cholerae, Cryptosporidium parvum).

Category C Biological Agents

Category C agents could be engineered for mass dissemination in the future, due to availability, because they are easy to produce and disseminate. These agents have potential for high morbidity and mortality rates and also major health impact. Emerging and potential infectious diseases are Nipah virus and Hantavirus.

Biological Weapons Convention

The first biological agents’ convention was the Geneva Protocol of 1925, prohibiting chemical and bacteriological methods of warfare. The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. The protocol only banned the use of biological agents not the development, production, or stockpiling of these weapons.

In 1975 entered into force the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction.  The convention has reached almost universal membership with 184 States Parties and four Signatory States.

There have been compliance concerns with respect to some Convention States’ medical institutions or military-associated universities’ toxin research and development because of the dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat. Also, some of these states have possessed an offensive BW program before and under the BW convention and no official evidence of information to demonstrate that they took steps to fulfil its treaty obligations under Article II of the BWC.

States parties of the Biological Weapons Convention on 7 August 2007

States parties of the Biological Weapons Convention on 7 August 2007

What is the Future of Biological Weapons?

The Nolen Center and institute of Council on Strategic Risks in February 2022 published report “Understanding the Threat of Biological Weapons in a World with COVID-19”, crystalises and summarised well how biological agents and weapons are seen in future:

“Given the ongoing obscurity surrounding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, several nations appear to have concluded, as the primary lesson from the pandemic, that biological weapons provide an effective covert tool that can be wielded as part of hybrid warfare strategies or as a relatively cheap strategic deterrent. Several key features of biological weapons, including their accessibility, significant potential for causing severe economic damage, and uncertain impact, lend themselves to providing a cheap and effective deterrent against adversaries. For other countries, their deniability, easy concealment, and psychological impact make biological weapons an ideal tool for hybrid warfare or shoring up regime security.”

Full report available here: Understanding the Threat of Biological Weapons in a World With COVID-19 by Council on Strategic Risks

ENVI Assay System

Bertin Environics’ ENVI Assay System bio defence tests is the ideal tool for provisional identification of Biological threats. These high quality and proven tests for early detection are the most compact immunoassay “lab-in-a-box” in the market.

ENVI Assay Defence Tests for IdentifyingBiological Agents

Disposable, separate assays for seven highly poisonous hazardous agents: ricin toxin, botulinum toxin, Bacillus anthracis anthrax, orthopox virus, SEB, Yersinia pestis and Francisella tularensis.

The views and opinions expressed in Bertin Environics Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Environics Oy. Any content provided by the authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, neither they serve as a scientific statement.


Toni Leikas

Training Manager

I am Toni, a CBRN professional with over 20-year experience in training and educating Security and CBRN matters. I have trained operators from over 50 different nationalities, from a wide range of occupational areas from First Responders to Scientists.

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