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Last edited 12 Sep 2022
It is second only to cellulose as an abundant organic compound in nature, where in combination with a variety of proteins it forms the structural component of fungi cell walls (mycelium), arthropod exoskeletons, fish scales and mollusc shells. In harder substances such as clam shells it combines with calcium carbonate, but can also form solid but more flexible structures with certain proteins, as in the wings of insects.
Chitin has been used in the food industry as an antimicrobial, in medicine as a prebiotic for gut health to reduce inflammation and is used in anti cancer drugs. It is also used in burn medications, as radiation protection and in soluble surgical sutures. Mycelium, which relies on chitin, is being used to produce a number of buildings materials such as insulation, sheet materials and structural elements, because of its natural strength and as a fire retardant.
'Martian biolith' published in 2020 (Shiwei N, Dritsas S, Fernandez JG) builds a strong case for chitin to be used as the main building material for any future inhabitants of Mars, as it can be grown and used on site with minimal energy inputs to create habitable structures and materials.
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