Medicine Shellfish as Healers

by Sandy Fritz

Chitin, a natural polymer in shellfish exoskeletons, has been made into water-resistant paper and edible food wrapping. But recent work has demonstrated that it also has antifungal properties and promotes healing.

North Carolina State University developed a technique for manufacturing cottonlike strands of chitin that may be used to dress cuts and burns. A similar product has been produced by Unitika, a Japanese industrial giant, but N.C. State researchers say their process costs less and produces stronger material.

Finding the raw material is no problem, since North Carolina alone produces about 27 million pounds of shellfish waste a year.

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Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)