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Chitin (C8H13O5N)n (pronounced /ˈkaɪtən/) is a long-chain polymer of a N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of glucose, and it is found in many places throughout the natural world. It is the main component of the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods, such as crustaceans (like the crab, lobster and shrimp) and the insects, including ants, beetles and butterflies, the radula of mollusks and the beaks of the cephalopods, including squid and octopi). Chitin has also proven useful for several medical and industrial purposes. Chitin is a biological substance which may be compared to keratin. Although keratin is a protein, and not a carbohydrate, both it and chitin are used in structural functions.
Chemistry, physical properties and biological function
Chitin is a polysaccharide; it is synthesized from units of N-acetylglucosamine (more completely, N-acetyl-D-glucos-2-amine). These units form covalent β-1,4 linkages (similar to the linkages between glucose units forming cellulose). Chitin may therefore be described as cellulose with one hydroxyl group on each monomer substituted with an acetylamine group. This allows for increased hydrogen bonding between adjacent polymers, giving the chitin-polymer matrix increased strength.
In its unmodified form, chitin is translucent, pliable, resilient and quite tough. In arthropods, however, it is often modified, becoming embedded in a hardened proteinaceous matrix, which forms much of the exoskeleton. In its pure form it's leathery, but when encrusted in calcium carbonate it becomes much harder. The difference between the unmodified and modified forms can be seen by comparing the body wall of a caterpillar (unmodified) to a beetle (modified).
Chitin is one of many naturally occurring polymers. Its breakdown may be catalyzed by enzymes called chitinases, secreted by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, and produced by some plants. Some of these microorganisms have receptors to simple sugars from the decomposition of chitin. If chitin is detected, they then produce enzymes to digest it by cleaving the glycosidic bonds in order to convert it to simple sugars and ammonia.
Chemically, chitin is closely related to chitosan (a more water-soluble derivative of chitin). It is also closely related to cellulose in that it is a long unbranched chain of glucose derivatives. Both materials contribute structure and strength, protecting the organism.
The English word "chitin" comes from the French word "chitine", which first appeared in 1836. These words were derived from the Latin word "chitōn", meaning mollusk. That is either influenced by, or related to the Greek word khitōn, meaning "tunic" or "frock", the Central Semitic word "*kittan", the Akkadian words "kitû" or "kita’um", meaning flax or linen, and the Sumerian word "gada" or "gida".
A similar word, "chiton", refers to a marine animal with a protective shell (also known as a "sea cradle").
Chitin is used industrially in many processes. It is used in water purification, and as an additive to thicken and stabilize foods and pharmaceuticals. It also acts as a binder in dyes, fabrics, and adhesives. Industrial separation membranes and ion-exchange resins can be made from chitin. Processes to size and strengthen paper employ chitin.
Chitin's properties as a flexible and strong material make it favourable as surgical thread. Its biodegradibility means it wears away with time as the wound heals. Moreover, chitin has some unusual properties that accelerate healing of wounds in humans. Chitin has even been used as a stand-alone wound-healing agent.  Chitin is used to make Chitosan, a product with numerous commercial and possible biomedical uses. Its most famous use is as a weight loss product.
Most recent studies point out that chitin is a good inductor for defense mechanisms in plants. It was recently tested as a fertilizer that can help plants develop healthy immune responses, and have a much better yield and life expectancy.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Chitin". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|