Chitin (pronounced kai-tin) is one of the main components in the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of insects and other arthropods, and in some other animals. It is considered a polysaccharide; it is constructed from units of acetylglucosamine (more completely, N-acetyl-D-glucos-2-amine). These are linked together in β-1,4 fashion (in a similar manner to the glucose units which form cellulose). In effect chitin may be described as cellulose with one hydroxyl group on each monomer replaced by an acetylamine group. This allows for increased hydrogen bonding between adjacent polymers, giving the polymer increased strength.

Structure of chitin molecule

"Chitin" and "chiton" (a marine animal) both derive from the same Greek word meaning "tunic", referring to the hardness of the shell.

In the honeybee the color of chitin may be yellow, golden, brown or black.

Other uses

• The strength and flexibility of chitin make it the material of choice for surgical thread, which decomposes over time after the wound heals.
• Chitin can be used to produce chitosan, which has a variety of biomedical applications.


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