"While the individual viruses had proven to be non-lethal in testing, Paxia had engineered a sort of genetic puzzle box. When more than one of her viruses infected a host, they assembled the fragmented pieces of a single, labyrinthian genetic code. The genome of a plague.
So The Plague
is wreaking havoc on the world's population. Maybe Super Flu has killed millions, or some unknown biological agent is causing people to snap and kill each other
. Heck, maybe we even have a good old fashioned Zombie Apocalypse
on our hands. Either way, it's safe to say that for most of humanity, these are not fun times. How could things get much worse, you ask?
By the revelation that the disease in question has been manufactured, genetically altered, and possibly even distributed
by humans. The untold amount of death and destruction has been directly caused by the foolish or malicious action of Man himself.
It may have been designed for use as a biological weapon
, or an unexpected result of an experiment gone wrong
. Perhaps we just shouldn't have let monkeys watch TV for too long
. However it came to be, it has now been unleashed on humanity at large, and has almost certainly gone far beyond what its designers had originally intended.
In works that involve these types of diseases, expect an Aesop
about the hubris of man, and the evils of unchecked science
. In most cases, those behind the creation of the disease will often fall victim to it as well
, either directly or indirectly. Scientists who worked on the original project may cry out "My God, What Have I Done?
are favorite weapons of Mad Scientists
alike. Note that in works where multiple sentient, technologically advanced species exist, any disease created by one of those species would qualify. The key defining point in this case is that the disease in question does not occur naturally, but is instead created or nudged along by intelligent creatures.
of The Plague
, and one that can often serve as a form of Depopulation Bomb
. Compare Mystical Plague
, The Virus
, Apocalypse How
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Anime & Manga
- A Transformers Animated tie-in comic reveals that in this continuity, cosmic rust was a bioweapon created by the Decepticon chemist, Oil Slick. He is not at all concerned about Decepticons who are infected with chemical agent and only begins working on a treatment after he himself is infected.
- The Hate Plague in Dead Air is revealed by the terrorist who unleashed it to have been created by the U.S. Government, originally for use as a Depopulation Bomb against enemy cities in the Middle East.
- Similarly, the Hate Plague in 28 Days Later (and its sequel 28 Weeks Later) was caused by researchers looking for a way to calm down angry persons. It flew the other way. Horribly.
- In I Am Legend, the infection that wiped out most humans was the result of a supposed cure for cancer that ended up going horribly wrong.
- The Resident Evil series. The release of the T-Virus in the 2nd movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse caused mass death by the time of Resident Evil: Extinction.
- In Quarantine, the rabies infecting everyone in the building is revealed to be a "super rabies" stolen by an apocalyptic cult.
- The hemophage virus in Ultraviolet was engineered, and the scientist responsible goes on to take over the world using the infected as a bogeyman.
- In L: change the WorLd, Blue Ship, a terrorist group, manufactures an extremely dangerous virus in order to wipe out humanity and restore balance in the ecosystem.
- In the film version of V for Vendetta, the St. Mary's Virus was a major factor in Norsefire's rise to power. Blamed on religious extremists, it's later revealed that the government developed it through experiments conducted on prisoners at the Lark Hill detention facility, and chose to attack their own people to create an environment of fear that would cause the people to give the goverment more power.
- The scientists in Rise of the Planet of the Apes weren't trying to create a Synthetic Plague, they were trying to create a cure for Alzheimer's. Unfortunately for them, not only did the ALZ-113 give sentience and super-intelligence to apes, it was fatal to humans. And it was an airborne virus. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
- The Hate Plague in The Crazies was created by the US government as a biological weapon against hostile populations. Then the plane carrying it ends up crashing in a lake used by a local small town for drinking water.
- In Last and First Men the second men eventually created a virus designed to destroy the Martians (themselves sentient clouds of microbes), but the side effects of the plague lead to the second men's downfall and replacement by the third men.
- The Operator in Duumvirate creates at least five of these. The book ends when it's time to unleash them.
- The Stand: The "super flu" which kills 99 percent of the world population nearly overnight was the result of military weapons experiments in the United States, and was released when a lab accident caused it to be spread throughout the military base it was being stored. Later in the book, the demonic Randall Flagg reveals that other man-made viruses such as super Ebola are in the works to kill the remaining members of the "good" side of humanity.
- It gets worse (morally speaking). Not only did the U.S. accidently get itself horribly infected, when the military officers in charge of the base where the accident happened decide that there's no putting the cat back in the bag, they order operatives in Europe and Asia to purposefully release the plague over there, under the "if we go down we're taking you all with us" theory. They note that the operatives think the containers they're supposed to open contain radioactive particles for use in testing the ability of satellites to track them, or something.
- In The Dark Tower, however, Flagg actually takes credit for the plague himself, though he's silent on the details- he was probably the one responsible for the "accident", but he may or may not have had anything to do with its creation.
- It should be noted that Flagg has no problem accepting credit for deeds, items, and events that are not actually his design. At one point, when talking about his many names, he muses that he's been called Maerlyn (All-World's version of Merlin), but "who cares, because I was never that one, though I never denied it either."
- Christopher Anvil's The Steel The Mist And The Blazing Sun. The U.S. develops a bug that can cure diabetes by producing insulin. Unfortunately it infects non-diabetics too, causing them to go into insulin shock.
- Greg Bear's Blood Music. Artificial lymphocytes convert the entire biomass of North America into versions of themselves.
- Frank Herbert's The White Plague. An genetically engineered disease kills women over large areas (it's spread by men acting as unwitting carriers).
- In Oryx and Crake, an artificially created disease wipes out most of the human race.
- Alistair MacLean's The Satan Bug involves the protagonist trying to save humanity from annihilation by preventing the release of such a doomsday disease.
- Similarly, Clive Cussler's Vixen 03 involves a race to stop the release of a bio-weapon that is projected to be able to kill up to 98% of all human life.
- In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, an eco-terrorist group that, as part of a two part plan, plans to release a modified version of the Ebola virus, code-named "Shiva". The second half of their plan is to distribute a fake vaccine (that's actually still the virus) in order to make sure it gets distributed as fully as possible. They're pretty devious, in that they'll distribute two versions of the vaccine: one that works and one that really, really doesn't; the purpose of the first is both to fool the general populace into thinking that they're getting the cure, and to save themselves and the few people they deem necessary for building an environmentally-friendly future. They come very close to succeeding, too.
- The Tom Clancy's Power-Play novella BioStrike features an artificially created Ebola variant, but unlike in Rainbow Six, the heroes intercept the virus due to Techno Babble. The Big Bad didn't even get to release the virus, to his own chagrin.
- Patient Zero has a virus they call the Sword of Allah that pretty much is a weaponized form of The Virus that causes Zombie Apocalypse.
- The premise of the book The Breeds Of Man has a cure for AIDs becoming a fresh plague in it's own right, a Sterility Plague which affects more people than AIDs ever did. (Nice Job Breaking It Scientists).
- The eponymous disease in The Changeling Plague was engineered to be a cure for cystic fibrosis, but the virus mutated and went out of control.
- In the Star Wars X-Wing Series, the big plan of the Empire is as horrible as it is brilliant. Knowing they are at a strategic disadvantage and unable to the hold the Capital World Coruscant against the inevitable massed invasion by the Alliance, they develop the Krytos virus, a blend of several of the galaxy's most lethal and infectous diseases. The main requirements were that it be 100% lethal, harmless to humans and Bothans, contagious for a long time before symptoms manifest, and as horribly painful as possible...and that it be easily curable with bacta, an expensive medicine normally used to treat combat injuries. This killed vast numbers of people, massively limited the supply of bacta available to the Alliance and drove it to nigh-bankruptcy (all the more so because the Empire almost-simultaenously took control of the only planet that could produce bacta), and bred resentment and distrust of humans among the alien members of the Alliance (which was further fomented by the Bothans, a species of Sleazy Politicians).
- The Young Jedi Knights series' second arc featured a similar plague... aimed at humans and humans only. The Diversity Alliance's insane leader sought to find and unleash it. Later the characters discovered that the Empire had created plagues specifically targeting each individual species.
- During the New Jedi Order series , the war against the Yuuzhan Vong goes badly enough that a synthetic plague called "Alpha Red" is created, which specifically targets the Vong and their Organic Technology, killing them within days. It is deemed unethical, and condemned by the heroes, but still gets released here and there by certain elements in the Alliance.
- In Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, the Zombie Apocalypse was triggered by the interaction of two synthetic viruses designed to cure cancer and the common cold.
- In the Plague Year Series, the nanotech plague/Grey Goo that befalls humanity was originally intended as a cure for cancer; it worked by dismantling the cancer cells. By the time they figured out that it dismantled a little too well, it had already escaped containment.
- Star Trek: New Frontier has the Redeemer virus, a plague engineered by the Redeemers and carried in their High Priests' blood, so that any non-natural death wipes out everything on the planet he died on within a few days. Naturally, said High Priests are stationed on newly "redeemed" planets, and occasionally (as in Dark Allies) used as a weapon of influence.
- In The Dresden Files novel Death Masks, creating a magical plague like this is the objective of Nicodemus, using the magical power of the Shroud of Turin. Nicodemus isn't doing it for any reason beyond to cause chaos and death, which he views as its own end.
- In Echoes of an Alien Sky by James Hogan, settlers from Venus spend much of the novel figuring out where Terrans went, and why they look like them. Turns out they are descended from Terrans, ones sent away right before the Earth was overwhelmed by a Plague. Even more horrible when one realizes the virus was meant to be genocidal, as its effects are essentially Zombie Rabies. Even the technique used to get away was so experimental that the Venusians didn't think Terrans had found it yet.
- In the Dune prequels, there's the Omnius Plague, released by the Thinking Machines against the League worlds. It wasn't actually designed by machines but by an exiled Tlulaxa scientist. The plague ends up devastating the human worlds, killing billions, and mutates into an even deadlier form on Rossak. While a cure is never discovered, Doctors Mohandas Suk and Raquella Berto-Anirul discover that spice can be used to resist the effects of the plague. As a result, the entire known galaxy is now dependend on spice for survival.
- David Patneaude's Epitaph Road has this. It's discovered the plague, Elisha's Bear, that killed many of the men on Earth, was released by a fanatical woman.
- In The Wild Boy, the virus created and released by the Lindauzi. Everyone thought they were humanity's saviors, but later, Ilox found the truth.
- Courtship Rite has a synthetic plague of locusts. Oelita discovers a native species of insect which is eating wheat and not dying. Normally, native life finds Terran life as poisonous as Terran life finds native life. When the Kaiel get a sample of the insect, they discover it has been deliberately genetically modified, and furthermore, the Mnankrei are standing by with ships of grain waiting for the famine these bugs will cause, so they can trade food for fealty.
- The Quantum virus from Animorphs, first referenced in The Andalite Chronicles and finally seen firsthand in The Hork-Bajir Chronicles. An even deadlier virus is featured in The Arrival.
- In Rainbows End, the Sunrise Plague was an artificial pseudomimivirus released by a cult, and the "second worst Euro-terror of the decade". A large part of the book revolves around the search for a new virus designed not to kill, but for Mind Control.
- In the chronologically last chapter of Cloud Atlas, it is mentioned that synthetic diseases were deployed during the Fall. And they are not dead yet.
- In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, World War III was fought with Super-Tularemia and Improved Glanders, among other non-conventional weapons. The lives of these scientists who created these horrors are described ironically.
- The Reveal at the end of Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods is that the disease called "the Curse of the Warmbloods" was a biological weapon that escaped from a Regalian lab. Its creator didn't tell anyone she had the cure because she didn't want to admit she'd created the plague.
- In Under a Graveyard Sky, H7D3 is a purposefully designed, multi-stage agent that ultimately turns its victims into very aggressive humans with no real sapience, basically being little more than two-legged, vicious feral animals.
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's The Stars Are Cold Toys, the Geometers are masters of genetic engineering. Their current social structure is a direct result of them employing a Synthetic Plague to wipe out another sentient race on their homeworld that was attacking them. It is also discovered that the plague that devastated the Geometer population at some point in the past was designed by the same scientist who later developed their version of penicillin to fight it at the request of the Mentors who wanted to restructure the society. Pyotr realizes that, if the Conclave goes to war with the Geometers, they will probably end up destroying their homeworld, but the surviving Geometers will continue to conduct hit-and-run attacks against Conclave worlds, releasing deadly plagues where they can.
Live Action TV
- In Terry Nation's Survivors, the plague that kills most of the human race was the result of a lab accident.
- In the original series, it was clearly an accident (as shown in the Title Sequence). In the 2000 series, it was suggested that it might have been deliberately released, but the series was cancelled before this idea was developed.
- Terry Nation liked this in general. In the Blake's 7 episode "The Children of Auron", the evil Federation wipes out the Auronar with an artificial plague. In his Doctor Who work, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", "Planet of the Daleks", and "The Android Invasion" all feature evil invading cultures using or plotting to use artificial plagues on the natives of planets.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In an attempt to end the Dominion War, Section 31 creates a disease and uses Odo as a carrier to spread it to the Founders.
- Several episodes of the 1995 revival series of The Outer Limits feature wholly artificial or genetically altered diseases.
- The Cordilla virus from season 3 of 24.
- The plot of the short-lived Babylon 5 spin-off Crusade (following the film A Call to Arms) is that a race known as the Drakh decide to attack Earth. While they fail to destroy Earth when their Planetkiller is destroyed, their Plan B is to release a deadly and highly virulent plague on Earth to wipe out the majority of humanity. Later on, it's discovered that the virus is, in fact, not only artificial but also non-biological in nature. It's actually nanites actively seeking to adapt themselves to human physiology, a process estimated to take about 5 years, during which many humans keep dying from various "mutations" of the plague. The mission of the crew of the Excalibur is to find the cure before time runs out. One episode involves a formerly-inhabited world whose denizens have mysteriously disappeared. It turns out that this was also caused by a nanite-based virus, this one being of the Hate Plague variety. It causes the infected to go berserk on anyone nearby and then snap back into normal without any memory of what happened (possibly, adding halucinations of a shadowy figure doing the dirty deed).
- The original Babylon 5 had Jha'dur, a Dilgar war criminal infamous for exterminating a whole planetary population with Stafford's Plague (among many other things).
- The Hoffan Plague spread by Micheal in Stargate Atlantis in an effort to cripple the Wraith. For reference, a group called the Hoffans created a drug that, if taken, would render one immune to Wraith feeding, and indeed poisonous to the Wraith. It also had a 50% mortality rate among those who took it (they were aware of this, and took it anyway. The Wraith slaughtered the survivors). Micheal got a hold of it, turned it into a disease (albeit with "only" a 33% mortality rate), and spread it to as many human populations as he could in order to poison the Wraith's food supply.
- In backstory to the Stargate SG-1 episode "Prisoners", Linea was imprisoned as "the Destroyer of Worlds" for creating a plague that wiped out over half the population of the planet Rillaan.
- JAG: In "Embassy" the Sudanese Ambassador has stolen vials of Ebola from a U.S. lab, intending to use it for political purposes in Sudan.
- The novel Star Trek: Avenger written by William Shatner involves a plague spreading through the galaxy. It turns out that not only was it engineered by a group of Well Intentioned Extremists, one of the key members was Sarek, Spock's father. When he later tried to reveal the truth, he was poisoned in such a way as to mimic Bendii Syndrome. In fact, one of the original test worlds was Tarsus IV, and Sarek mind-melded with young Kirk to erase his memories.
- In the D20 Apocalypse setting Plague World, a species of aliens invaders unleash a deadly engineered virus on humankind. Too bad for them, the virus mutated, so when they landed to finish the surviving humans, they suffered from massive casualties caused by their own weapons.
- Warhammer40000: One form of the world-killing Exterminatus uses a virus that breaks down all living tissue, reducing the biosphere to a mass of extremely flammable matter.
- The Exsurgent virus in Eclipse Phase is a bio-nanotech or digital virus created by the ETI that mutates people into hideous abominations, or at the very least gives them Psychic Powers and a mental disorder or two. There are also a few more mundane designer plagues too.
- Exalted: Downplayed with Great Contagion. Not because it has minimum effect, but because its primary beneficiary, the Deathlord known as the Dowager, did very little to shape it into the all-consuming death that killed just about everyone. Its original strain came from another dimension.
- Magic: The Gathering has Mad Scientist characters create these from time to time. Yawgmoth released plagues just to see what would happen while the Simic Combine did the same thing to start life on Ravnica all over in their design.
- In Deus Ex, a man-made plague is used to control the populace in mankind's dystopian future, with the Orwellian government maintaining full control of the vaccine that keeps people alive.
- Everyone suspects that the plague on Omega in Mass Effect 2 is human-made, because it kills all species except humans (and Vorcha, who are immune to all disease and help spread it). However, it turns out that while it is, indeed, artificial, it was created by the Collectors to purge Omega of every race except humans, so they can harvest the latter.
- The indie game One Chance is all about this, as the player takes the role of a researcher whose team has inadvertently created an airborne pathogen that will kill all life on Earth in six days.
- Some of the graffiti in Left 4 Dead written by the unseen survivors has them making up theories that the Green Flu was made by the government as a biological weapon or some sort of conspiracy theory. If this is true or not is, for the time being, left ambiguous.
- As in the film series it spawned, Resident Evil involves fighting the horrors spawned by the Umbrella Corporation created T-Virus.
- Ever17: The accident in the underwater amusement park is caused by Leiblich Pharmeceuticals attempting to cover up the fact that a very deadly virus they manufactured, Tief Blau, had been released within the park.
- The Blacklight Virus in Prototype was engineered by Blackwatch from the fictional naturally-occuring Redlight mutagenic virus (or vice-versa, it's not entirely clear). It was originally intended to target specific minorities, went horribly wrong, and then they decided that it'd be really awesome if they made it even more virulent. And Dr. Alex Mercer was the one that "improved" it.
- Warcraft 3's undead plague. Deliberately made by the scourge to create more minions, it took some time for the targeted humans to figure out what it was for and where it came from.
- Part of the world-ending crisis in... well, Crysis 2 was a very, very nasty disease which causes people to literally disintegrate over a period of weeks. Since the first cases came from advanced nano- and biotechnology firm Crynet's quarters, fingers were quickly pointed. Turns out they were wrong; the 'Spore,' as the virus came to be called, was a creation of the alien Ceph, intended to not only kill humans but reduce them to environmental-friendly sludge so as to minimize the ecological impact when they finally took back their world.
- Several in Sword of the Stars can be deployed by ships with "biowar" modules. Most do damage to planetary populations without destroying infrastructure or terraforming (unlike the other options) but vaccines against them are easily researched.
- Plague and Retro Plague are standard lethal diseases, Beast Bomb reduces populations to animalistic inteligence so no production is possible, and Assimilation Plague converts victims to the attacker's empire.
- The Zuul are immune to all bioweapons though, being genetically engineered soldiers after all. With the exception of the Xombie plague in the second game.
- Part of the research tree in Armada 2526 allows players to research increasingly virulent artificial plagues (both biological and nanotechnology varieties) which can then be unleashed as part of a planetary invasion, with predictable damage to the ecosystem, or as part of a deliberate planet-wide eradication of populace.
- The gene plagues you can use to cull the population with in Fate of the World are this.
- The Ebola Brahma virus in Rainbow Six, which the Phoenix group plans to use as a Depopulation Bomb by setting it off at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics.
- The zombie plague in Shellshock 2 was created to end The Vietnam War (and any war thereafter), but after the US military rejected it, the creator releases it anyway so as to prove its power and to force them to make a deal with him for the cure. The player character ends up with a choice between accepting the virus creator's offer (while hoping that there will be an opportunity to punish him after he provides the cure) or simply shooting him and let the plague go on. (Neither ending is exactly bright and cheery.)
- The game Pandemic and its various versions and clones all involve an engineered plague whose goal is to infect and kill every human in the world before the world governments can research a cure/vaccine and stop it.
- Killing is not always the goal. Plague Inc has a special disease type that act differently. The Neurax Worm is a parasite that infects the brain and subtly influences it. The final goal of the worm is to infect every person in the world and get people to worship it as a god. The other special disease is the Necroa Virus, which, at a specific point in its "evolution", turns the infected into zombies. The final goal is to kill everyone or, at least, turn them into zombies, which the game claims will eventually die of hunger. One of the means of fighting the plague is an organization called XCOM.
- The Romulus virus from Soldier of Fortune 2.
- Ebin and May had a case of biological warfare, but due to Fantastic Racism, it only affected the lupines as seen in this strip.
- The Greening Wars had an interesting example in the prologue. The warlord who had the viruses created wanted them to be disabling but non-lethal, to allow relatively bloodless conquests of crippled armies. Unfortunately, the Mad Scientist he hired to make the plagues believed that crippling the enemy wasn't enough, and found a way to make the viruses harmless in testing but be lethal in the field.
- Endtown has the mutagenic virus, it doesn't kill but it causes semi-random mutations. If you're awake when infected you become a mindless monster with too many eyes and teeth, if unconscious you become a Funny Animal.
- A big part of Genocide Man, the titular Super Soldiers carry briefcase-sized biology labs so they can use tailored plagues to wipe out the genetic deviants they are sent to exterminate. And most of the world's population was killed off by a series of designer plagues before the comic.
- Bonesaw of Worm creates a prion based amnesia plague.
- Cybonic plague from Transformers Prime when Optimus becomes infected, the Autobots must enter the mind of the virus's creator, a comatose Megatron, to seek a cure.
- In modern times, fortunately, this is mostly not Truth in Television. Biological weapons are considered far too difficult to control and too prone to backfiring; the majority of germ research is on how to maintain cures and preventative measures for such things. Chemical weapons are seen as the more practical equivalent for something that poisons an area.
- Note that there are far fewer candidates in Real Life then in fiction. Ebola outbreaks and other quick lethal diseases for example "burn out" because people get sick too quickly to spread it around very much. In a pandemic its speculated that after people start locking themselves at home the transmission would stop from quarantine. Slower diseases conversely are more survivable or treatable. There are still dangerous scenarios, but not world ending ones.
- Contrary to this trope's usual assumptions, creating a Synthetic Plague wouldn't be particularly profitable for a Corrupt Corporate Executive either: even if a government or terrorist organization were inclined to buy such a thing, they would only do so once, after which they could presumably culture more of it for themselves. Chemical agents and plain ol' guns don't breed, so repeat sales make them a far more profitable alternative for a weapons manufacturer.
- There is speculation around the world of intentionally modified viruses developed and stockpiled for biological warfare. It typically involves taking an already highly infectious and lethal agent, such as small pox, and modifying it just enough to render vaccines ineffective. No such strain has ever been used, but there have been rumors of the Soviets stockpiling such a version of small pox during the 80's (fortunately, its not around today even if they did; small pox has a shelf life of only a few years).