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Biodegradation of the chitin-protein complex in crustacean cuticle

Organic Geochemistry

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, , , , , ,
DOI: 10.1016/S0146-6380(97)00113-7

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Abstract

Arthropod cuticles consist predominantly of chitin cross-linked with proteins. While there is some experimental evidence that this chitin-protein complex may resist decay, the chemical changes that occur during degradation have not been investigated in detail. The stomatopod crustacean Neogonodactylus oerstedii was decayed in the laboratory under anoxic conditions. A combination of pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and FTIR revealed extensive chemical changes after just 2 weeks that resulted in a cuticle composition dominated by chitin. Quantitative analysis of amino acids (by HPLC) and chitin showed that the major loss of proteins and chitin occurred between weeks 1 and 2. After 8 weeks tyrosine, tryptophan and valine are the most prominent amino acid moieties, showing their resistance to degradation. The presence of cyclic ketones in the pyrolysates indicates that mucopolysaccharides or other bound non-chitinous carbohydrates are also resistant to decay. There is no evidence of structural degradation of chitin prior to 8 weeks when FTIR revealed a reduction in chitin-specific bands. The chemical changes are paralleled by structural changes in the cuticle, which becomes an increasingly open structure consisting of loose chitinous fibres. The rapid rate of decay in the experiments suggests that where chitin and protein are preserved in fossil cuticles degradation must have been inhibited.Arthropod cuticles consist predominantly of chitin cross-linked with proteins. While there is some experimental evidence that this chitin-protein complex may resist decay, the chemical changes that occur during degradation have not been investigated in detail. The stomatopod crustacean Neogonodactylus oerstedii was decayed in the laboratory under anoxic conditions. A combination of pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and FTIR revealed extensive chemical changes after just 2 weeks that resulted in a cuticle composition dominated by chitin. Quantitative analysis of amino acids (by HPLC) and chitin showed that the major loss of proteins and chitin occurred between weeks 1 and 2. After 8 weeks tyrosine, tryptophan and valine are the most prominent amino acid moieties, showing their resistance to degradation. The presence of cyclic ketones in the pyrolysates indicates that mucopolysaccharides or other bound non-chitinous carbohydrates are also resistant to decay. There is no evidence of structural degradation of chitin prior to 8 weeks when FTIR revealed a reduction in chitin-specific bands. The chemical changes are paralleled by structural changes in the cuticle, which becomes an increasingly open structure consisting of loose chitinous fibres. The rapid rate of decay in the experiments suggests, that where chitin and protein are preserved in fossil cuticles degradation must have been inhibited.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Biodegradation of the chitin-protein complex in crustacean cuticle
Series title:
Organic Geochemistry
DOI:
10.1016/S0146-6380(97)00113-7
Volume
28
Issue:
1-2
Year Published:
1998
Language:
English
Publisher:
Elsevier Sci Ltd
Publisher location:
Exeter, United Kingdom
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
First page:
67
Last page:
76
Number of Pages:
10