Environmental Chemistry Letters

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 1623–1643 | Cite as

Historical review on chitin and chitosan biopolymers

  • Grégorio CriniEmail author


In 1799, Hatchett decalcified shells of crabs, lobsters, prawns and crayfish with mineral acids, observing that they produced a moderate effervescence and in a short time were found to be soft and plastic of a yellowish color and like a cartilage, which retained the original figure. Although this is the first mention of calcified chitin in invertebrates, the discovery of chitin is usually attributed both to Braconnot in 1811 who discovered chitin from fungi, and to Odier in 1823 who obtained a hornlike material after treatment of cockchafer elytra with potassium hydroxide. Chitin was first named fongine by Braconnot and then chitine by Odier. Children revealed the nitrogenous nature of chitin in 1824. The history of chitosan, the main derivative of chitin, dates back to 1859 with the work of Rouget. The name of chitosan was, however, introduced in 1894 by Hoppe-Seyler. In 1876, Ledderhose hydrolyzed arthropod chitin and discovered glykosamin, the first derivative of chitin. This review describes the 220 years of the development of chitin. I have roughly divided the story into five periods: discovery from 1799 to 1894, a period of confusion and controversy from 1894 to 1930, exploration in 1930–1950, a period of doubt from 1950 to 1970, and finally the period of application from 1970. The different periods are illustrated by examples of published studies, in particular from outstanding scholars who have left their mark on the history of this polysaccharide. Although this historic review is not exhaustive, it highlights the work of researchers who have contributed to the development of our knowledge of chitin throughout the 220 years of its history.


Chitin Chitosan History Discovery Braconnot Controversy Exploration Period of doubt Period of application 



It is first a honor and pleasure to thank my mentors, colleagues and friends Professor Benito Casu (1927–2016), Professor Kjell M. Vårum (1953–2016), Professor Michel Morcellet and Research Director Giangiacomo Torri for inspiring my interest in biopolymers in the mid-1990s, in particular chitin and chitosan polysaccharides. I thank the following colleagues for much of the information collected and critical reading of early drafts of this review: Nadia Morin-Crini, Sylvie Bastello-Duflot and Marlène Gruet (Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté, France), Peter Winterton (Université de Toulouse III, France), Giangiacomo Torri (Istituto di Chimica e Biochemica G. Ronzoni, Milan, Italy), and Giuseppe Trunfio (University of Messina, Italy).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire Chrono-environnement, UMR 6249, UFR Sciences et TechniquesUniversité Bourgogne Franche-ComtéBesançonFrance

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