Chitin--the undisputed biomolecule of great potential

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2003;43(1):61-87. doi: 10.1080/10408690390826455.


Of the truly abundant polysaccharides in Nature, only chitin has yet to find utilization in large quantity. Chitin is the second most abundant natural biopolymer derived from exoskeletons of crustaceans and also from cell walls of fungi and insects. Chitin is a linear beta 1,4-linked polymer of N-acetyl-D-glucosamine (GlcNAc), whereas chitosan, a copolymer of GlcNAc (approximately 20%) and glucosamine (GlcN, 80%) residues, is a product derived from de-N-acetylation of chitin in the presence of hot alkali. Chitosan is, in fact, a collective name representing a family of de-N-acetylated chitins deacetylated to different degrees. Both chitin/chitosan and their modified derivatives find extensive applications in medicine, agriculture, food, and non-food industries as well. They have emerged as a new class of physiological materials of highly sophisticated functions. Their application versatility is a great challenge to the scientific community and to industry. All these are the result of their versatile biological activity, excellent biocompatibility, and complete biodegradability in combination with low toxicity. Commercial availability of high-purity forms of chitin/chitosan and the continuous appearance of new types of chitin/chitosan derivatives with more and more useful and specific properties have led to an unlimited R&D efforts on this most versatile amino polysaccharide, chitin to find new applications, which are necessary to realize its full potential. Incidentally, this too has become an environmental priority. No doubt, chitin is surely an undisputed biomolecule of great potential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomass
  • Chitin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Chitin / biosynthesis
  • Chitin / chemistry*
  • Chitin / physiology*
  • Chitosan
  • Crustacea / metabolism
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Insecta / metabolism
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Chitin
  • Chitosan