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Synthetic Plague

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"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 by genetic engineering, and possibly is 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??"

Synthetic Plagues are favorite weapons of Mad Scientists and Plaguemasters 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.

A Sub-Trope of The Plague, and one that can often serve as a form of Depopulation Bomb and/or Superweapon. Compare Mystical Plague, The Virus, Apocalypse How, and Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • During the Assassination Island arc of Assassination Classroom, eleven of the students are infected by a potentially fatal virus with varying symptoms — some are still on their feet, while others are vomiting blood, and Terasaka was able to hide his symptoms for hours. This was subverted when it was revealed that Gastro, Grip and Smog withheld using the plague in favor of a relatively harmless stomach flu that will eventually wear off because they only had to make the students think that they would die, and they didn't want the stigma of killing middle-school kids on their reputation, even if it meant defying Takaoka, their psychopathic employer.
  • This is the sub-plot in Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, where Marcus has released a virus over New York to wipe out all of people who haven't conformed to his ancient Roman ideals. The virus only had an 80% kill rate but by the end of the movie he's managed to make a 100% version.
  • The blood plague from 20th Century Boys is one of these, as it is continuously strengthened throughout the series to cause ever greater devastation.
  • The 'Monkey Business' virus from Cowboy Bebop. Fortunately, our intrepid heroes made sure the only victims were the eco-terrorists who planned to unleash it in the first place.
  • The Kremlin Report in A Certain Magical Index is a form of defense made by the Russian military, used in the event when nuclear facilities are likely to be taken over by an enemy, as seen during World War III against the Academy City forces. It is basically a wall which emits a bacteria which is both resilient and highly destructive.
    "It's a killer virus that is spread through the air. It enters the bloodstream through the respiratory organs and the skin. On top of that, it can break down oil content. Not only can it kill living things, it can also eat holes in respiratory masks and ducts used for defending against biological weapons. Once it's released, it can't be dealt with using ordinary methods...... No effective vaccine for the bacterial wall has been created. It is even highly resistant to heat treatment. There was a report that it can be destroyed with extreme concentrations of ozone, but... you know what would happen to them if it were to be used."
  • In Gift From The Princess Who Brought Sleep of the Evillious Chronicles, the main villain Margarita Blankenheim creates an airborne toxin out of the titular poison, Gift, which works exactly like a plague.
  • In Heavy Object the Einherjar project is a molecular motor that replicates the effect of rabies, but with a faster incubation rate and increased rate of spread.
  • In One Piece Queen, The Plague of the Animal Kingdom Pirates, derives his nom de plume from his ability to craft artificial diseases and viruses fashioned in bullets he calls "Excitement Bullets" note  which infect the victims with highly contagious viruses. So far he showed two: Mummy (which causes the target to burn with fever and dry up like a mummy) and Ice Demon (which turns the afflicted in a cold-exuding oni like creature which can infect others through bite like a zombie).
  • In Soul Hunter, Ryou Gaku is a Mad Scientist Sennin whose disciples wear special Paopei Suits which allows them to spread clouds of a deadly plague he made himself, which he uses to debilitate the entire Shu army and the heroes. A vaccine can be produced from a sample of his blood. Much later, he mentions that his personal Paopei Onkosan allows him to generate these, but he's killed before he can show any ability.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 Star Trek Khan comic (taking place after the main events of Star Trek Into Darkness but before the epilogue) has Khan stand trial for his crimes and retells the story of the Eugenic Wars back in the 20th century. He reveals that the Augments were finally defeated when the humans developed a virus tailored to kill only enhanced humans, leaving non-modified humans immune. After his Russian counterpart succumbs to the disease, Khan realizes that there's no way for them to win and leaves with his followers on the SS Botany Bay.
  • 2000 AD:
    • Shakara: The Shakara Federation was wiped out by an engineered disease known as the Red Death. Its creator had noble intentions in doing so because of the ruthless order that the Shakara imposed on the rest of the universe, but became The Atoner when the alliance that funded her plunged it back into an age of chaos and tyranny.
    • Judge Dredd: There have been many instances in the comic where hostile factions resorted to biological warfare by spreading lab-manufactured diseases among enemy populations. The worst one was probably the Chaos Bug, a Hate Plague designed by leftover factions of East Meg One that started an epidemic in Mega City One resulting in the death of about 85% of the population.
  • The Clench or Ebola Gulf-A from Batman Contagion, which Robin and a many other Gothamites contracted, was originally unleashed in Gotham City by the Saint Duma's Order but later revealed to have been created by Ra's al Ghul
  • In Image Comics' Shadow Hawk, it's revealed in a crossover with 1963 that AIDS was actually genetically engineered by a Soviet Mad Scientist named Comrade Cockroach to weaken America, only it turned into a case of Gone Horribly Right.
  • In X-Men, the Legacy Virus was originally engineered by Apocalypse in one Bad Future to kill off the remaining non-mutant humans. When Stryfe got a hold of it, he modified it so that it would target mutants instead. After it was unleashed however, it didn't take long before it mutated and started infecting baseline humans as well. If it hadn't been cured with the Heroic Sacrifice of Colossus (distributing the cure to the virus through his body would be fatal and he knew it), it would have wiped out all of humanity.

    Fan Works 
  • In Raven Child's "How Things Smurf" from her The Smurfette Village series, the "Blue Plague" (no relation to the disease from the episode of the same name in The Smurfs) was manufactured by either Gargamel or the new villain Asmoday to wipe out all the Smurfs and Smurfettes at once, although because Papa Smurf had put up a magical force field to keep the plague from spreading, several Smurfs were spared this fate and would go on to build a whole new Smurf Village elsewhere.
  • In Friendship is Optimal, a depressed programmer came this close to unleashing a highly-contagious plague that would lock everyone's facial muscles into a "smile". You see, he wrote an AI, showed it a bunch of photos of smiling faces, and said "make everyone in the world smile". Luckily, Celest-AI stepped in before the virus could actually be released.
  • Escape From the Moon: As Spliced Genome, Doa created a number of these that killed millions and infected billions more.

    Films — Animated 
  • Isle of Dogs: Dog flu was invented by Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals to give the dynasty a pretext for removing all the dogs.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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 government 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 Viral Marketing website Simian Flu implies that only one-tenth of the population survived. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reveals that only small pockets of humans survived-those with a natural immunity to the plague. War for the Planet of the Apes reveals it's mutating to affect the remaining population: it robs them of the ability to speak. The Colonel claims it also robs humans of their intelligence, but, as seen on the film's YMMV page, there's room for debate on that.
  • 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. accidentally 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.
  • Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt Adventures novel 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.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, of all places, Sauron employed synthetic plagues at various points in the backstory to weaken his enemies before more traditional conquest.
  • The Dawnhounds kicks off with the theft of an engineered fungal plague, found in the ruins of an ancient biolab, and the plague vials serve as the story's MacGuffin until the spores get out and the story takes a turn for the horrifying.
  • 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 its 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In the X-Wing Series, the Krytos virus was designed to exploit the weaknesses and tensions within the Galactic Alliance on multiple fronts. Knowing they are at a strategic disadvantage and unable to hold the capital world of Coruscant against the inevitable Alliance invasion, the Imperials develop and release the Krytos virus, a blend of several of the galaxy's most lethal and infectious diseases. The main requirements were that it be 100% lethal, harmless to humans and Bothans, contagious for a long time before symptoms manifest, horribly painful ... and easily curable with bacta, an expensive medicine normally used to treat combat injuries. This killed vast numbers of people, dramatically limited the supply of bacta available to the military, drove the Alliance to nigh-bankruptcy (all the more so because the Empire almost-simultaneously 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 that nobody else trusts).
    • 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. The asteroid containing the viruses was destroyed, though the fight that ensued did end up releasing some viruses, which infected both the father of one of the knights and the leader of the Diversity Alliance. The father sacrificed himself to ensure the asteroid blows up. The leader tried to fly to Coruscant to spread the disease, but her disillusioned number two subdued her and flew her to parts unknown to die.
    • 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.
    • The Vong weren't above using their own synthetic plagues — including one nasty variant, release on Ithor, that also had the side effect of over-oxygenating the atmosphere, so anything surviving the plague had global firestorms to look forward too. One of the many arguments against Alpha Red was that it might spur the Vong to retaliate in kind, potentially sterilizing the entire galaxy.
    • Thousands of years before these examples, the ancient Sith Alchemists perfected the Rakghoul Plague, a debilitating infection that would irrevocably transform its victims into the eponymous mutant beasts. Nearly every humanoid species (and quite a lot of others besides) are at risk, ensuring that rakghouls are an everpresent threat once an infection begins.
    • In the Star Wars: Legacy comics, the Sith scientist Vul Isen engineers a plague lethal enough to wipe out all life on a planet within a matter of days. He unleashes it on Dac as part of the Sith’s plan to exterminate the Mon Calamari, and later uses it to wipe out all life on Da Soocha as well. He would have unleashed it on Utapau too, had Cade Skywalker not tracked him down and killed him.
  • 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. Scientists wanted to extensively test both before dubbing them fit to release to the public, but a Well-Intentioned Extremist felt the wait was too long and basically dropped the virus on major population centers.
  • 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 Double Helix series set in the Star Trek universe (primarily during the NextGen era), a shadowy malefactor sponsoring medical research appears to be purposely infecting different planets in order to test out the most efficient way to send out viruses to kill off as many Federation citizens as possible.
  • 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 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 Legends of 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: 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.
  • The Blue Pox, from "Briar's Book" in Circle of Magic. A mage trying to develop weight-loss potions dumped failed efforts in the sewers rather than disposing of them properly. The magical potions mixed with each other and the filth, creating a magical disease which caused its victims to waste away. The original potion was engineered to resist a common medicine (so users could treat their headaches, for example, without compromising their weight loss), which now has tragic consequences.
  • In the Jacob's Ladder Trilogy, an engineered strain of influenza is used as a biological weapon. It is designed to be potent enough to afflict even Exalts, who have nanomachine-enhanced immune systems.
  • In The Empress Game, the Sakien Empire created a nanotech virus as a bio-weapon, but it got loose and is doing a lot of damage. This caused the Empire to invade the planet of Ordoch, which had refused to provide a cure on the grounds that the technology involved could have created an even worse weapon, and the Empire had already demonstrated itself unfit to be trusted with that kind of thing. However, the Empire still hasn't managed to compel Ordoch to produce a cure, and can't hold the planet in the long run.
  • The Tunnels series has Dominion, a strain of influenza genetically engineered by the Styx into a super-plague that will kill everyone on the planet's surface, allowing those living Beneath the Earth to rise up and take their place.
  • The descolada in Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide is an artificially-created supervirus that systematically dismantles and reassembles the DNA of its host. Interesting in that while it's fatal—and nastily so—to Earth life, it is absolutely vital to the ecosystem of Lusitania, necessitating an approach to the disease that doesn't eradicate the pathogen entirely. In Children of the Mind, it's discovered that its deadliness is only a side effect; its true purpose is to terraform alien worlds to be more hospitable to its creators.
  • In Victoria the US population is decimated by the N'Orleans Flu, a disease apparently created by some bright kids in a garage just to see if they could. Later, after the Muslims all unite to invade Boston (don't ask) and are driven off, there's a prisoner exchange in which both sides expose their prisoners to engineered plagues before turning them over. The Victorians wisely quarantine their returned prisoners and the death count is controlled, while the Arabic population is reduced by millions.
  • Everland has the Horologia virus, created from a poisonous apple by Queen Katherina and unleashed onto England. The virus quickly wipes out its adult population while slower to take affect on those eighteen and under. Females are particularly vulnerable to it.
  • In Frank Herbert's The White Plague, an American biologist is driven to madness by the death of his wife and children by an IRA bomb during a visit to Ireland. He returns to American and creates a plague that kills only women. He releases it in Ireland as revenge, but it quickly spreads around the world.
  • In Kalki, by Gore Vidal, the founder of a new religion decides to kill everybody on the planet, save for six sterile experts, leaving himself and his girlfriend as the only fertile people left, who will repopulate the Earth with a new perfect humanity. They kill everybody, but it turns out Kalki and Lakshmi can't have children, which was concealed by their doctor, one of the survivors, who is actually not sterile and plans to be the father of the new human race. Lakshmi refuses to have children by him, and people die out.
  • In Fate's Fangs Nadia has a side job getting innoculated with supposedly benign viruses that carry isotope tags so the medical corporation that owns her home city can study the spread of disease. After one of her clients in her primary job drops dead mid-session, suspicions are raised.
  • Ashes Of Empire: A good chunk of Imperial Night deals with Lyonesse's efforts to keep out the "Barbarian Plague" — an Imperial bioweapon accidentally released when reavers raided biowarfare labs (placed on the Empire's borders to keep them well away from inhabited planets) looking for technology to scavenge.
  • Isaac Asimov's Pebble in the Sky: In chapter 15, "The Odds That Vanished", Dr Shekt explains how the Society of Ancients has developed a variation of the Common Fever which will be incredibly virulent and as far as Outsiders are concerned, incredibly deadly.

    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 2008 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.
    • The Dominion themselves used one on an alien planet for resisting their control. The entire surviving population is infected, and has been for generations. The disease remains dormant for a seemingly random amount of time before suddenly activating, followed by an excruciating death. Worse, it's exacerbated and mutated by electromagnetic radiation, meaning anyone attempting to cure it will be extremely limited in technology, and the entire civilization was forced into a Medieval Stasis.
  • Several episodes of The Outer Limits (1995) 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).
  • Stargate-verse:
    • 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.
    • In the later seasons of SG-1, one of the Ori's favorite tricks for gaining new followers was have their Priors (priests) secretly unleash a deadly plague upon a population, then have the Priors publicly show up and miraculously cure that plague. They also try to use it as a bio-weapon against Earth, but a Heel–Face Turn-ed Prior uses his power to cure it (and is immediately killed by the Ori for his treachery).
  • 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.
  • Inverted in the Doctor Who episodes "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances". London has been infected by a virus that turns humans into gas mask wearing zombie creatures. As it turns out, it's not a plague at all, but in fact a cloud of nanogenes that are actually supposed to heal the ill and wounded. But since the nanogenes in question are alien and have never seen humans before, they just turn all the humans they encounter into what they think humans are supposed to look like: a dead boy wearing a gas mask, the first 'human' they've encountered. They end up fixing it by having the nanogenes infect the mother of the dead boy: by recognizing her as the parent, they're able to correct themselves and cure the zombies.
    • Played straight in "Planet of the Daleks," when the Daleks decide to use this to rid the planet they are enslaving of Thal intruders.
    • An unintentional example in "The Pyramid at the End of the World", where a pair of scientists are running routine tests. Unfortunately, one of them had her glasses accidentally broken by her husband, and the other one is suffering from a bad hangover from the night before. The latter ends up messing up a decimal point, while mixing the latest batch of chemicals. This results in a highly-voracious flesh-eating bacteria that threatens to wipe out all life on Earth within a year, should it escape the lab.
  • In Helix, its clear that the outbreak of The Virus at an isolated research facility originates from mysterious, ethically-dubious research into biological superweapons, but Arctic Biosystems' staff is willfully opaque as to the details, hamstringing the efforts of the CDC rapid response team to contain its spread. It eventually turns out that Arctic Biosystems' parent company, Illaria Corporation, is run by a cabal of immortals who were using Arctic Biosystems' research to develop both a plague to "thin the herd" of global population, and a cure to bully the survivors into servitude with.
  • In Revolution, The Patriots purposely use a designed, targeted version of typhus against people with mental or biochemical disorders. They're not very nice people.
  • One episode of Diagnosis: Murder has RZ1765, a genetically modified strain of smallpox with an 8-hour incubation period and the potential to wipe out a small city. It gets stolen, along with the antigen that counteracts it, from a biological research company and by a series of unlucky coincidences infects Mark, Jesse and an unlucky burglar, although thankfully Mark recognises the symptoms when the burglar expires and sets up a quarantine before anyone else gets infected.
  • In Sliders, one world is suffering from the after-effects of one such plague being accidentally released and wiping out the vast majority of men in the world. With all of the world becoming a Lady Land, the two new superpowers (US and Australia) are in competition for population growth, each attempting to subvert the breeding efforts of the other and kidnap highly-"productive" men. Strangely enough, artificial insemination is never attempted, even though it would be an obvious answer.
  • The 4400: A slight variation. In the two-part story "The Fifth Page" and "Mommy's Bosses", Kevin Burkhoff determines that the apparent disease afflicting the 4400 is not a disease at all but an unintended side effect of the promicin inhibitor that is given to them at their quarterly checkups. Promicin is a previously unknown neurotransmitter which gives the 4400 their abilities. The inhibitor builds up in the lymph nodes until it reaches toxic levels, severely damaging the immune system and ultimately resulting in death.
  • Next (2020): Next develops one using the technology at Biomotion Dynamics, with Somalian terrorists supplying test subjects by kidnapping villagers.


    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • One form of the world-killing Exterminatus procedure uses a virus that breaks down all living tissue, reducing the biosphere to a mass of extremely flammable matter. While useful on planets with lots of minerals or infrastructure, agriworlds become useless to the Imperium, and they've stopped using them ever since they figured out virus bombings powered up Nurgle, the god of disease and decay.
    • One Dark Eldar Archon is known to be narcissistic to the point where he once unleashed a virus on a planet that changed every living thing's face into a copy of his own.
  • 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 the Ravenloft campaign, a common health problem among citizens of Valachan is white fever; while rarely lethal (fatalities occur now and then) symptoms include weakness, pale skin, chills, night terrors, and sudden loss of weight. In truth, this is not a disease at all. The darklord of Valachan and most of his servants are vampires, and white fever is something they invented to explain the weakness that befalls victims who they feed on, but don't kill (which is most of them, actually; they rarely have a need to create more vampires).
  • In Shadowrun, Ares engineered Strain III Flourescing Astral Bacteria to fight the insect spirit infestation of Chicago. Strains I and II merely glow in the presence of mana and dual-natured creatures, while FAB3 actively seeks out and consumes mana. Like all bioweapons, it went after more than just its intended target and devastated the ghouls of Cabrini Green and active mages. Pockets of FAB3 are scattered throughout Chicago, waiting for a nice juicy mage, spirit, or paracritter to walk by and announce its presence to them.
  • In Crimestrikers, the titular menace in "The Hydreran Plague" is bioengineered by PARCH, a racist terrorist group, to affect only Hydrerans (a race of Fish People).
  • In BattleTech, bio-engineered plagues have resulted in the destruction of multiple planets. Most infamously, the Draconis Combine planet of Galedon V had a bio-weapon get released during the Word of Blake Jihad. Tens of thousands were killed before Clan Snow Raven arrived and conducted an Orbital Bombardment campaign against the planet's cities. Afterword, the Draconis Combine quarantiened the planet for a time before deciding that the plague was too dangerous and untreatable and chose to sterilize the entire planet with two weeks of sustained nuclear strikes. Just to make sure nobody would ever try to visit the planet again.

    Video Games 
  • 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 and intended to wipe out non-humans, it was created by the Collectors for the purpose of isolating the humans they want to harvest by killing everyone else.
  • 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-occurring 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 III'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.
  • RuneScape has an interesting example in the Elf Quest series. In a quest you learn that the plague in West Ardougne is faked by King Lathas of East Ardougne after his brother, King Tyras, turned evil.
  • 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. Another 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 ZCOM. A third one is the 'Pithovirus' that, if you play your cards right regresses the human race to the point that they become Neanderthals again. Everyone's still technically alive, but the homo sapien race is no more. There's also a Christmas scenario, where Christmas cheer is the virus, designed to brings back happiness.
    • And since it was mentioned above, the Simian Flu from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an option in Plague Inc..
  • The Romulus virus from Soldier of Fortune 2.
  • Master of Orion allows the player to research biological weapons to wipe out planetary populations without damaging colony improvements. However, this causes every other faction to despise the user.
  • "Manticore" in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a bioweapon created by ATLAS to kill anyone not inoculated by them. The inoculation is given to all ATLAS personnel.
  • In the Fallout series, there were some accusations that the US government created and spread the New Plague, not Chinese agents as was officially claimed. Whilst that is an unproven theory, a canonical example of a Synthetic Plague in the series is the Forced Evolutionary Virus, or FEV. Originally, this was intended to be a Beneficial Disease; created under the title "Pan-Immunity Virion Project (PIVP)", it was intended to be an inoculation against the New Plague and against bio-warfare attacks. But when the government discovered the virus' Mutagenic Goo properties, they scrapped that project, redubbed it FEV, and tried to militarize it in the form of a Super Serum. All they achieved was creating the savage, dangerously uncontrollable Super Mutants, and a myriad of other horrors.
  • In the Myst franchise, devastating plagues are a recurring theme in the history of the D'ni civilization and all can be traced back to a single source: King Alsendahl, who created a plague to exterminate an alien race who he believed were preparing to attack, only for it to jump the species barrier and nearly wipe out his own people. In atonement for this, he had himself and all known sources of the disease permanently sealed inside his palace. Mutations of the plague popped up every few centuries thereafter, and have been major plot devices in two of the tie-in novels: in The Book of Ti'ana, the vengeful criminals Veovis and A'Gaeris release a plague onto the D'ni city, destroying its population almost completely, and in The Book of D'ni, a strain that had been rendered harmless to the D'ni proved fatal and virulent to their crueler cousins, the Tehranee, resulting in the destruction of that civilization.
  • The variola chimera virus in The Division is one of these. The guy who made it contaminated currency with it, then spent said money during Black Friday, hence one of the nicknames being the 'Dollar Flu.' The creator is later found to be dead from his own plague, but a rogue Division agent steals his equipment and kidnaps a virologist so he can make his own plagues.
  • Iron Helix: The "Iron Helix" is a biological weapon that attacks the infected's cells, mutating their DNA and rendering their bodies unable to carry out vital metabolic functions, which kills them within only a few hours.
  • The virus in Planet Explorers's campaign mode was engineered by the Pajans for a war that devastated Maria. While the planet's native species have learned to live with it, the player and their colonist friends soon have a plague on their hands.
  • The main antagonist of Trauma Center leads a cult that believes modern medicine leads humanity to lead unnatural lives. They operate by spreading GUILT, a pathogen engineered to kill their patient. The sequels also deal with artificial pathogens with differing origins and intent of creation.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The titular Fog of Doom in Spiral Zone causes a zombie-like state in people, named Zoners as they were in the affected zones. The series' villains use the Zoners as mind-controlled slaves. Pretty dark for a kids' show.
  • 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.
  • The Centurions episode "Sungrazer" begins with Big Bad Doc Terror unleashing the Z-80 virus, which causes humans to lapse into a catatonic state.

    Real Life 
  • 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 than in fiction. For example Ebola and other quick lethal diseases that are feared as potential bioweapons are impractical in that role: its lifetime on dry surfaces outside of a host is only a couple of hours, the average amount of people that are infected by an Ebola patient is only between one and two people (even HIV has a higher rate of 2–5). Sending a live Ebola patient is also impractical, as by the time Ebola patients are highly contagious, they are normally very ill and bedridden with high fever, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Even the Soviets spent billions trying to weaponize Ebola without much success. In addition, in a pandemic it's 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: The costs and resources needed to produce effective bioweapons are very high, and handling and transporting them needs special training. Countries have developed vaccines and counters against the more easy-to-handle bioweapons like anthrax and smallpox, so they aren't going to be very effective in war. In addition to the above-mentioned issues, more dangerous bioweapons cannot be made anywhere without killing the staff and researches. For example, research into Ebola is almost exclusively done in Bio-safety level 4 Labs, and there are very few of them and don't have much space to carry out shady research. Even with all the infrastructure, you need really trained and experienced staff as extracting a virus is a skill that is gained from practice. In the end, you will be making a super-expensive weapon that is effective but is unaffordable for most and cannot be used or transported safely or cheap enough but easily countered.
  • Speaking of the Soviets, they experimented heavily with making more lethal versions of mundane diseases like the flu and the common cold. They apparently didn't get very far, their "secret" lab on an island in the Aral Sea leaked its contents after the sea dried up. Fortunately, it just caused slightly worse flu and cold season that year (if that).
  • 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 smallpox, 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 smallpox during the '80s (fortunately, it's not around today even if they did; smallpox has a shelf life of only a few years).
  • HIV is often falsely suspected to be one of these; seen under microscope, the virus is an incredibly layered and complex virus. It also has a very low incubation time, which would be important for an artificial virus to enhance its spread potential. And, while it was probably originally contracted by blood contact with apes being harvested for food, actually confirming this beyond a doubt is problematic. Naturally, thanks to these facts, conspiracy theories run rampant.
    • The very complexity of HIV that makes people speculate about its origin is actually strong evidence that it's not man-made. If human biotechnology were advanced enough to be capable of constructing something that complex, it'd also be advanced enough to have made a lot more progress on eradicating or at least vaccinating against it.
  • Biopesticides, a more target-selective alternative to insecticides, are insect-killing bacteria (e.g. Bacillus thuringiensis), fungi, viruses or nematodes cultivated for agricultural pest control. Harmless to humans, they're bred for high virulence to maximize their effectiveness.
  • The anti-vaccine movement firmly believes that autism is this, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, and the only doctor to make such a link was deemed to have taken part in a fraud so heinous that he was struck off the medical register in the United Kingdom and can no longer practice medicine. Still, this has not stopped this movement from maintaining that this link exists, and as a result, there is recent re-occurrence of preventable diseases like measles, whooping cough and diphtheria. In the face of such outbreaks, the anti-vaccine movement prefers to blame the vaccine instead, and calling such re-occurrences as well as better classification of autistic behavior "symptoms of a man-made epidemic".


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Man Made Plague, Artificial Plague


Simian Apocalypse

The global spread of the "Simian flu" wipes out human civilization and nearly all of humanity itself.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ApocalypseHow

Media sources:

Main / ApocalypseHow