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Curr Biol. 2015 Mar 30;25(7):897-900. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.01.058. Epub 2015 Mar 12.

Chitin is endogenously produced in vertebrates.

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  • 1Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, 1201 Ninth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101, USA.
  • 2Singapore University of Technology and Design, 8 Somapah Road, 487372 Singapore, Singapore; Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
  • 3Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA; Department of Ichthyology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
  • 4Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, 1201 Ninth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101, USA; Department of Biology, University of Washington, 106 Kincaid, Seattle, WA 98105, USA. Electronic address:


Chitin, a biopolymer of N-acetylglucosamine, is abundant in invertebrates and fungi and is an important structural molecule [1, 2]. There has been a longstanding belief that vertebrates do not produce chitin; however, we have obtained compelling evidence to the contrary. Chitin synthase genes are present in numerous fishes and amphibians, and chitin is localized in situ to the lumen of the developing zebrafish gut, in epithelial cells of fish scales, and in at least three different cell types in larval salamander appendages. Chitin synthase gene knockdowns and various histochemical experiments in zebrafish further authenticated our results. Finally, a polysaccharide was extracted from scales of salmon that exhibited all the chemical hallmarks of chitin. Our data and analyses demonstrate the existence of endogenous chitin in vertebrates and suggest that it serves multiple roles in vertebrate biology.

Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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