Team:Northwestern/Project/Chitin Synthesis


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Modeling Chassis Induction Chitin Apoptosis

Chitin is an abundant biopolymer found primarily in the exoskeletons of arthropods, including many insects and crustaceans. Composed of N-acetylglucosamine monomers (Figure 1), it functions analogously to keratin in mammalian skin, providing a support matrix for the protective outer surface of these animals. Similarly, most fungi produce chitin in their cell walls for structural support. Chitin production in Saccharomyces cerevisiae depends on a series of enzymatic steps (Figure 2).
alt text
Figure 1 Chitin molecular structure.
Source: Wikipedia - Chitin

One enzyme in this pathway, chitin synthase 3 (CHS3), was previously found to be among the most active chitin sythases in the chitin synthase family of enzymes and does not require additional cofactors to function. As a result, we use CHS3 as the chitin production mechanism in our inducible system (BBa_K418007).
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Figure 2 Chitin synthesis pathway.
Adapted from Figure 3.1 of Chitin: Fulfilling a Biomaterials Promise by Eugene Khor.

Chitin has many applications, particularly in medicine and industry. Currently, nearly all chitin is obtained from natural sources (i.e. shells of crustaceans). Thus, a method of recombinant chitin production may have commercial applications. Several examples of chitin usage are listed below:


Medicinal Use:

  • Wound and burn treatment/healing
  • Hemostasis for orthopedic treatment of broken bones
  • Viscoelastic solutions for ophthamology and orthopedic surgery
  • Abdominal adhesion treatment
  • Antibacterial and antifungal agents
  • Tumor therapies
  • Microsurgery and neurosurgery
  • Treatment of chronic wounds, ulcers and bleeding (chitin powder)

Industrial Use:

  • Food/Pharmaceutical/Agricultural/Cosmetic thickener, stabilizer
  • Agricultural protection
  • Water resistant properties
  • Dietary supplement
  • Water purification
  • Edible microcrystalline films used to preserve food
  • Sequestering of particles (i.e. oil)
  • Biodegradable/non-pollutant