Chitin – The Wonder Molecule of the Ocean

Chemical structure of the chitin molecule.
Chemical structure of the chitin molecule.

Every now and then chitin or its commercial derivative, chitosan, appear in the news with a new application. In a recent study chitosan coupled with Gymnemic acid was shown to effectively remove mercury from water. Just as chitosan can absorb this toxic material from water, chitosan has also been used in the wellness industry for its ability to bind to fat molecules in weight loss programs.

Chitin is a word that often appears in the marine literature when describing the exoskeletons of arthropods like lobster, crabs and shrimp. When combined with calcium carbonate it makes up a very durable material for a huge number of ocean organisms as well as many land-based insects. In a sense, chitin is a protective armor for arthropods, helping them to form tough shells to meet the demands of their harsh environment.

Chitin is a long chain polymer molecule that forms long strands or fibers that give it the durability found in the shells of crustaceans. Not surprisingly, another strong polymer material that is woven into long strands is Kevlar, although the similarity stops there.

IMG_5083Applications and Benefits

It seems that the applications for chitin and chitosan are endless. Here are some more…

Chitin may be used as surgical thread because it is very tough and biodegradable, dissolving once wounds are healed.

Chitosan has been used along with other ingredients in the manufacture of tissue using 3D printers.

The literature is filled with articles showing how chitosan may help to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and benefit patients who suffer from kidney failure.

It’s remarkable to contemplate the diversity of benefits that can be derived from this simple marine product. Just as the rainforest has been tapped for it’s hidden pharmaceutical treasures, the ocean is a repository for numerous industrial, engineering and health benefits.

Chitin definitely qualifies as a wonder molecule.

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