An ethnic bioweapon (biogenetic weapon) is a type of weapon that aims to harm only or primarily people of specific ethnicities or genotypes.
Usage of natural disease as an ethnic bioweapon in conflicts has a long history. In Nepal, for example, rulers maintained a malaria-infected Terai forest as natural barrier against invaders from the Ganges Plains. Natives of Terai had natural resistance to malaria, while the invaders didn't.
One of the first modern fictional discussions of ethnic weapons is in Robert A. Heinlein's 1942 novel Sixth Column (republished as The Day After Tomorrow) in which a race-specific radiation weapon is used against a so-called "Pan-Asian" invader.
In 1997, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen referred to the concept of an ethnic bioweapon as a possible risk. In 1998 some biological weapon experts considered such a "genetic weapon" a plausible possibility, and believed the former Soviet Union had undertaken some research on the influence of various substances on human genes.
The possibility of a "genetic bomb" is presented in Vincent Sarich's and Frank Miele's book, Race: The Reality of Human Differences, published in 2004. The authors believe that information from the Human Genome Project will be used in just such a manner.
In 2004, The Guardian reported that the British Medical Association (BMA) considered bioweapons designed to target certain ethnic groups as a possibility, and highlighted problems that advances in science for such things as "treatment to Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases could also be used for malign purposes".
In 2005, the official view of the International Committee of the Red Cross was "The potential to target a particular ethnic group with a biological agent is probably not far off. These scenarios are not the product of the ICRC's imagination but have either occurred or been identified by countless independent and governmental experts."
In 2012, The Atlantic wrote that a specific virus that targets individuals with a specific DNA sequence is within possibility in the near future. The magazine put forward a hypothetical scenario of a virus which caused mild flu to the general population but deadly symptoms to the President of the United States. They cite advances in personalized gene therapy as evidence.
Israeli "ethno-bomb" controversy
In November 1998, The Sunday Times reported that Israel was attempting to build an "ethno-bomb" containing a biological agent that could specifically target genetic traits present amongst Arab populations. Wired News also reported the story, as did Foreign Report.
The article was quickly denounced as a hoax. Microbiologists and geneticists were skeptical towards the scientific plausibility of such a biological agent. The New York Post, describing the claims as "blood libel", reported that the likely source for the story was a work of science fiction by Israeli academic Doron Stanitsky. Stanitsky had sent his completely fictional work about such a weapon to Israeli newspapers two years before. The article also noted the views of genetic researchers who claimed the idea as "wholly fantastical", with others claiming that the weapon was theoretically possible.
A planned second installment of the article never appeared, and no sources were ever identified. Neither of the authors of the Sunday Times story, Uzi Mahnaimi and Marie Colvin, have spoken publicly on the matter.
Russian ban on export of biological samples
In May 2007, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that the Russian government banned all exports of human biosamples. The report claims that the reason for the ban was a secret FSB report about on-going development of "genetic bioweapons" targeting Russian population by Western institutions. The report mentions the Harvard School of Public Health, American International Health Alliance, United States Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division, Karolinska Institutet and United States Agency for International Development.
- Biological warfare
- Prayer of the Rollerboys
- Project Coast
- Race in biomedicine
- Syphon Filter, a video game in which terrorists attempt to release a genetically programmable virus.
- Wouter Basson
- The Terai Forests, Forest Monitor, 2006
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- Hessel, Andrew (2012), Hacking the President’s DNA, The Atlantic
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- on YouTube
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- Is all fair in biological warfare?, Journal of Medical Ethics, June 2009.
- New biological weapons: Science fiction or moral imperative?, Robin Coupland, Red Cross Red Crescent, July 1999