Chitin and chitosan oligosaccharides (COS) have been traditionally obtained by chemical digestion with strong acids. In light of the difficulties associated with these traditional production processes, environmentally compatible and reproducible production alternatives are desirable. Unlike chemical digestion, biodegradation of chitin and chitosan by enzymes or microorganisms does not require the use of toxic chemicals or excessive amounts of wastewater. Enzyme preparations with chitinase, chitosanase, and lysozymeare primarily used to hydrolyze chitin and chitosan. Commercial preparations of cellulase, protease, lipase, and pepsin provide another opportunity for oligosaccharide production. In addition to their hydrolytic activities, the transglycosylation activity of chitinolytic enzymes might be exploited for the synthesis of desired chitin oligomers and their derivatives. Chitin deacetylase is also potentially useful for the preparation of oligosaccharides. Recently, direct production of oligosaccharides from chitin and crab shells by a combination of mechanochemical grinding and enzymatic hydrolysis has been reported. Together with these, other emerging technologies such as direct degradation of chitin from crustacean shells and microbial cell walls, enzymatic synthesis of COS from small building blocks, and protein engineering technology for chitin-related enzymes have been discussed as the most significant challenge for industrial application.
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