A domestic terrorist organization has come to light due to recent terror attacks that they claim responsibility for. This group has developed a biological weaponized plague that attacks the nervous system of an individual. If released, it has the potential to kill millions. The terrorists blame a particular ethnic group for what it sees as the nation's social and economic woes, and seeks to commit genocide by spreading this plague in the name of national defense. The intent is to only make this minority group susceptible to this weapon, killing them off while leaving everyone else they see as worthy unscathed.

All populations are genetically diverse, and racial categories are based on subjective evaluations of traits. All humans share the same genes, which exist in a variety of alternative forms called alleles. The relationship between ancestry, genetic makeup, and phenotype are so complex. This makes it difficult for this group to limit the effects of this virus to one group in particular without killing anyone outside of it.

This subgroup ethnicity is made up of around 16 million people out of a country of 1.5 billion. These people are free citizens who can come and go as they please. The terrorists are hoping to kill as many as possible in their country, but also hopes that infected people who travel abroad will infect others of their race as a secondary objective. How can these terrorists develop this weapon in a way that it would exclusively target one group of people only? Would this be possible with advanced tech?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 'Minority Group' is a somewhat ambiguous term, and I'm assuming that you mean 'Ethnicity'. If so, then you've answered your own question in your 2nd paragraph (which looks to be straight out of Wikipedia, you might want to reference that) but invariably, especially in a time of mass global communication, the impact of an ethnic culture is propagated by people of increasingly diverse ethnicities, not to mention adoptions and other factors where people can be raised in a particular ethnicity without belonging to it. My recommendation is to tighten up the definition of minority group. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 2:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ " racial categories are based on subjective evaluations of traits" and "there is no specific gene that can be used to determine a person's race" seems to contradict each other. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, not really. The first is simply saying that how we define race (such as by skin colour) is subjective; why define race by skin colour instead of eye colour, for instance? Why is the former considered more important? The second is that even if you decide what traits you want, there's likely no genes that are specific to that same group: some members of the group won't have the gene, some people outside that group will. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ Bioweapons targeting particular ethnicities have been considered a technical possibility by a number of experts en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_bioweapon $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ Your view of genetic diversity is flawed or companies like 23andMe are lying through their teeth. Minority groups (e.g., races) can be defined by groups of genetic traits. That actually benefits your question as the more traits that define the race the easier it is to create the plague. (And for the record, all people do not share all genes (gene variants) or there's a problem explaining red hair.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 7:23

6 Answers 6


You wouldn't do it as a single plague but as a series.

In each case you would target a specific allele. E.g. blue eyes. You would use CRIPR/Cas9 to insert a lethal gene in addition to the gene for blue eyes.

Do the same for ability to roll your tongue, if you determine that only people in the non-desired group have that as a trait.

You wouldn't get all of the group. You will include some people from outside your group. But if you are fanatic you recognize there will be sacrifices to be made.

Of course you need to be able to identify the exact string of DNA that controls this trait. At this point I suspect that there aren't a lot of these known. Most that are known are far from unique to a particular ethnic group.

(E.g. we had a couple in University where He was cast iron black from some African country, and She was classic blue eyed nordic platinum blond. Their daughter was chocolate, blue eyed, and had golden curly blond hair.)

Oh well. Too many people anyway. So we have to weed the human race down to a few million to purify the race.


Short answer is you can't. Longer version goes like this...

Even if you have a perfect definition of an ethnic group, and that's what you mean by minority group, you can't guarantee that your genetically engineered virus is going to ONLY attack people of that ethnicity, and that it's going to attack EVERYONE of that ethnicity; biology and genetics has proven consistently over time that things just don't work that way. Let's however look at some of the reasons why;

1) Natural Resistance
The existence of things like MRSA (multi-resistant Staph-Aureus, or resistant Golden Staph) is an example of how by wiping out a massive number of a specific group, all you're really doing is filtering out those who are susceptible to your attacks. MRSA is effectively a super-bug that infects people while at the same time being resistant to almost all anti-biotics, meaning that there's no remaining effective treatment for people who become infected with this bug. Worse, we pretty much created it by wiping out its weaker strains through the mass application of anti-biotics. There is no disease that will ever be 100% effective in wiping out a particular species, race or even bacteria. The trouble is that when we try, we create a stronger species, race or bacteria insofar as the only options for reproduction among the survivors are those who are also resistant.

2) Complexity of DNA
The problem you have is that given that DNA represents a MASSIVE number of atoms (around 8.5 billion according to one estimate), the sequence that you want to target is likely to naturally occur in OTHER areas of the DNA strand where the person is not of the ethnicity you are targeting. Normally, this is a very good thing and why medicine works; caffeine (for example) is chemically similar to a neural trigger that tells the brain it's tired. Caffeine bonds with those receptors, but doesn't contain the payload that triggers the tired effect, which is why coffee perks you up. It doesn't actually perk you up at all, it just stops the normal body processes from telling you that you're tired. Most medicines work the same way, tricking the body by bonding with certain receptors to trigger a specific effect and force the body to combat the infection. This is why herbal treatments, etc. also can work - they all take naturally occurring organic compounds and re-purpose them inside your body.

In practical terms, this just means that your disease isn't as likely to keep to your original plan as you might think, and it could go beyond humans as well if you're not careful. Do you really want to be the mad scientist responsible for the extinction of cows, for example?

3) Not Everything's in the Genes
In a modern world of mass global communications, behaviour has very little to do with ethnicity any more. While it's safe to say that your mad scientist is misguided, even if she genuinely believes that wiping out that ethnicity is a good thing you're forgetting that we as a species have started to heavily overlap among the races. Not only do you have the 'mixed race' problem with your viral targeting, but what about adoptions? Many of the people who identify with a specific ethnicity may not have any of those genes whatsoever. In other words, wiping out a race doesn't wipe out the thinking or behaviour that's the REAL target of your weapon.

4) Testing & Containment
If you really want this disease to target a specific segment of the community, you actually want to run clinical trials. Unfortunately, hiding the trials behind some other drug trials is going to be VERY hard in a modern society. You need both positive and negative subjects (people you want to kill and people you want to keep) in large numbers and you can't have them out in the open because this is not a treatment; it's an antigen and the last thing you want is this thing getting out into the wild before you're sure it works the way you think it should.

There are heaps of movies that explore this very scenario. There's a reason they're called horror movies. Putting that aside for the moment, you can't just kidnap the thousands of people you want to use as subjects and have them disappear for a couple of months. If your mad scientist is an Army doctor it might be more practical, but do you really want to test this on your protection should society fall apart as a result of this thing being released?

5) Mate's Rates
Even if you're doing this for ideological reasons, someone out there in your support team has a friend who's a part of this ethnic group. There will always be an attempt to protect at least one person from the release of this disease and that's also going to be a vector of weakness. Your own people will turn against you when their friends start dying as well, regardless of how much they believe in the cause. Add to that the fact that most people's genetic heritage is nothing like what they think it is and contains several closet's worth of skeletons, and you may well even kick an own goal without realising it. But that aside, individuals will cause your undoing because an individual has good character & qualities and friends. A 'race' might not. That will stir up enough conflict in most people's minds to trigger hesitation when the rubber of your plan hits the road.

Seriously, if this could be done there would be people out there doing it right now. Not sane people I grant you; this is very dangerous work we're discussing. But, ultimately there's always someone who'll survive, or you want to survive, that will throw a spanner in your works. Diseases just aren't as precise in their targeting as we'd like from a treatment and cure perspective; deliberately creating one, even one that you're trying to narrow the focus of for infections, is just plain reckless, stupid, and impossible.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Correct on all points and clearly conveyed! +1 ...of course some of the best writing opportunities are hidden in those same flaws. The mad scientist attempting to do this thing is a great initial plot trigger, but the real magic starts when the genie gets out of the bottle; when the plague mutates or some latent similarity among all ethnicities is discovered by the virus. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ "Ethnic group": ethnicity is cultural, not biological. It is also very flexible and easily mutable. For example, consider the Greeks and the Turks; the present nations are the result of the massive population exchange of 1923; basically, everybody in Greece, Thrace and Asia Minor who was a Christian was labelled "Greek" and sent to Greece, and those who were Muslim were labelled "Turks" and sent to Turkey; good luck finding a biological boundary between the two nations. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think yhat 2 is 100% correct. We created mrsa by giving antibiotics to people who didn't take the full series. Allowing bacteria that was slightly more resistent to survive. Which started more resisted strains floating around, eventually stove of them mutated in the right way to become immune. Over prescription was only 1/2 the problem. $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 21:50

First of all, this will never work between closely related groups, or those living together for a long time and got mixed up (for example the former Yugoslav member states can't attack each other this way). Also, if you choose bacteria as your base, your project might get stopped by a random antibiotic, if you choose a virus, random mutations will make it dangerous for your kind.

What you can do: choose something (let's say, a virus, see above) that spreads well, but not dangerous otherwise. Research your target group's DNA. It won't be completely homogeneous, so you'll need a list of target genes. Let's say the target population has RH- B blood (80%), dark skin (70%), lactose intolerance (50%), and so on. Now create something that reacts with melanin to make something toxic, creates lactose, puts antibodies into the blood, etc. Make them cause light symptoms individually, but deadly the more are present at the same time, and make them more serious the more your target group has it. I'm not a biologist, but something along these lines could target more-or-less your "enemy".

I wouldn't do it though. A nonlethal version might be good in a war (it's easy to fight when 90% of enemy soldiers can't leave the bathroom, but affects a few of yours), to attack the enemy's economy (again, hard to work when most of the country is in bed), but against a perceived internal enemy it's harder to do.

But if you're writing a story, it doesn't need to be perfectly correct in every technical detail. There are stories about zombies, wizards, vampires, gods, sea monsters, and noone cares they don't exist if the story is good. Make your world reasonably plausible.


You use CRISPR/Cas9

CRISPR/Cas9 is this special enzyme that will lock on to random DNA/RNA strands (I'm not an expert) and reads them, if it matches, it destroys it, otherwise it will leave it alone. My understanding is that it is rare for it to be produced naturally, as it is created after a cell survives a virus attack, and only targets a specific strand of DNA/RNA (when naturally formed, this is the DNA of the virus). There is a way to set its target manually, and I guess you could engineer it to work with a virus or something.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that would effect people outside the ethnic group $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ That's the thing with Bio warfare that makes it unused. It's like unleashing a hungry predator on your enemy, It might turn around and go after you instead. The difference with CRISPR is that (in this analogy) CRISPR is a hungry predator that has been trained that people wearing the enemy's uniform are both tastier and easier to catch than those who don't, making it more likely to attack the enemy instead of you. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ What I mean is, we can find "jewish" DNA in native americans, can find "black" DNA in whites and the reverse, it's really hard to find a single bit of DNA that exists in every member of an ethnic group, and only that group. $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 3:10

I agree with Tim B II, that it is not possible yet.

But there is a lot of afford today to discover virus for gene therapy, which detects specific cells and specific gene areas to insert for example intact gene where is actually one broken.

Same way existing marker for a lot of phenotype, or also lineage of people. But how you write, they are complex and the most are unknown.

So your group only need to "complete" this gene therapy work and use it in bad behavior. Combined with the discovery of a specific combination of markers for the target group of people, your story is complete.

It is your choice now, if fiction is possible in your work or not :)


Genetic genealogy testing can already identify people as belonging to various minority ethnic groups.

Some are better than others. For example, Ashkenazi (generally, Jews with Eastern and Central European ancestry within the last couple hundred years) DNA markers are fairly robust and show up as expected in pretty much everyone who tests who is at least 25% Ashkenazi (Sephardic and non-European Jewish populations are harder, in part because Sephardic Jews moved around even more than other Jews but mostly because of the lack of reference populations, though that shouldn't be an issue in 10-20 years, or maybe 5).

This level of accuracy requires:

  1. A large (and accurate) reference population (these are people who have 4 grandparents all belonging to the group, and preferably documented for older generations as well).
  2. Some level of endogamy (marriage takes place within the group, no matter how widespread it is) is needed or you get genetic drift and blurred boundaries.
  3. A specific and unchanging (for most) definition of the group (in other words, don't use a country because country's boundaries change dramatically).
  4. A group with an ethnic identity (it doesn't matter if outsiders call it an ethnic group or not). So you can't identify "Muslims" or "immigrants" or "farmers."
  5. Some intermarriage (and conversion) is okay because children will be identified as half or quarter, etc, but it won't work in a population with large amounts of intermarriage over time.

It makes no difference if the group's members are commonly mistaken for members of other groups (particularly large overarching groups).

Basically, it doesn't matter what your politics about race or ethnicity are. What matters is that you have a group that almost entirely only had children with other members of the group for a few hundred years.

Then you use tech that does not exist yet to track either these markers in people in real time (so the weapon determines "yea" or "nay" on a particular target) or to attach itself to everyone it meets then do the testing in situ.

  • $\begingroup$ Even so, it's not easy. Consider the Jews. For a very long time they have had a very strong cultural and religious identity, almost always marrying within the group. Even so Sephardim jews and Ashkenazi Jews have substantially different cultural, and liturgical differences, and visually appear distinct. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @SherwoodBotsford Because we split into two (+) geographical areas over 1000 years ago, that's why. And migration patterns from outside Europe were different too. 500 years ago, during the Inquisition, Seraphic Jews spread out to the Americas, all over Europe, and to Northern Africa and the Levant (also many converted or pretended to convert). The ones who stayed in Europe sometimes intermarried with Ashkenazi and sometimes chose not to. It's complicated. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 6:30

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