Biological Agents

What are Biological Agents?

Biological agent is a term used to describe microorganisms as well as toxins derived from biological sources which can be used purposefully as weapons in biological warfare or bioterrorism. Most of these agents are found in the natural environment while some are specially engineered in laboratories.

How do Biological Agents Affect Us?

Biological agents have the potential to be detrimental to human health. Effects range from mild allergic reactions to debilitation, disability and even death. Moreover, most biological agents are rather imperceptible and their effects are realized much too late. Biological agents can also affect plants and animals as most are susceptible to the effects. Historically, biowarfare has employed the use of fungal toxins, plants, human cadavers, animal carcasses, fecal matter and even disease-contaminated clothing.

List of Biological Agents

Biological agents can be classified into the following:

  • Bacterial Biological Agents
  • Chlamydial Biological Agents
  • Rickettsial Biological Agents
  • Viral Agents
  • Mycotic Biological Agents
  • Biological Toxins
  • Biological Vectors

Bacterial Biological Agents

As the name suggests, these bio-agents are bacteria. A few of the most well-known bacterial bio agents are:

  • Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax)
  • Vibrio cholerae (Cholera)
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae (Diphtheria)

Chlamydial Biological Agents

Among the most potent chlamydial biological agents is Chlamydophila psittaci. This organism causes a disease called Psittacosis, a zoonotic infectious disease. It is also known as parrot fever or ornithosis as it is contracted from infected parrots such as macaws and cockatiels.

Rickettsial Biological Agents

Rickettsial biological agents includes:

  • Coxiella burnetii (Q Fever)
  • Rickettsia prowazekii (Typhus)

Viral Agents

Well-known viral agents includes:

  • Japanese encephalitis virus (Japanese B encephalitis)
  • Rift Valley fever virus (Rift Valley fever)
  • Variola virus (Smallpox)

Mycotic Biological Agents

Coccidioides immitis is a mycotic bio-agent. It causes a disease known as Coccidiomycosis (also known as desert rheumatism and Valley fever).

Biological Toxins

Biological toxins, as the name suggests, are derived from living organisms. Some of the most potent are as follows:

  • Ricin (from castor bean – Ricinus communis)
  • Tetrodotoxin (from various marine bacteria)
  • Botulinum toxin (from bacteria – Clostridium botulinum)

Biological Vectors

Biological vectors carry causative organisms of a disease. The most well-known are:

  • Mosquito (Yellow fever, Malaria, Dengue)
  • Rat Flea (Plague)

FAQs on Biological Agents

Frequently Asked Questions on Biological Agents

1.What are biological agents?

Biological agent is a term used to describe microorganisms as well as toxins derived from biological sources which can be used purposefully as weapons in biological warfare or bioterrorism.

2.How do Biological Agents Affect Us?

Biological agents have the potential to be harmful to humans. Effects range from mild allergic reactions to disability and death. Moreover, most biological agents are rather imperceptible and their effects are realized much too late.

3.What are the types of Biological Agents?

Biological agents can be classified into the following:

  • Bacterial Biological Agents
  • Chlamydial Biological Agents
  • Rickettsial Biological Agents
  • Viral Agents
  • Mycotic Biological Agents
  • Biological Toxins
  • Biological Vectors

Explore more about biological agents or discover other fascinating topics by registering at BYJU’S Biology.

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