Enzymatic conversion of Chitin into high value compounds

Chitin is a long-chain polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, which is a derivative of glucose. Chitin is the main component of the exoskeleton of crustaceans, such as crabs, shrimp, and insects. It is furthermore found in cell walls of fungi, the radulae of mollusks and the internal shells and beaks of cephalopods, such as octopuses.


The research group has isolated a novel, non-described, bacterial strain („Chi5“) from environmental samples, which is able to convert chitin into chitosan oligosaccharides of defined chain lengths by a mixture of specialized enzymes. We are aiming to reveal the full potential of the enzyme cocktail produced by the marine microbe by sequencing its whole genome, followed by identification and subsequent recombinant production of the enzymes in a high performance expression system. After characterization of the single enzymes, the team will design a specialized cocktail composed of endo- and exochitinases able to generate chitin/chitosan oligomers of defined chain length from crab-chitin as basic raw material. By addition of a deacetylase, the required degree of acetylation of the sugar oligomers will be ensured.


The advantage of this approach is that long chained chitin/chitosan oligomers can be produced from prawn shells – a cheap by-product of the food industry – without the necessity of complex chemical processes using specialized enzyme mixtures. This “green approach” goes without the use of polluting chemicals; furthermore it’s much faster, more economical and more precise due to the high specificity of the enzymes. The enzymatic approach offers many advantages such as higher specificity, speed and product quality compared to a chemical process. AMIBM holds all rights related to the isolated microorganism, therefore no third parties are involved in terms of commercialization of the resulting products or further improvement of the enzymes/strain by molecular evolution.