Chitinous biomass represents a major pool of organic nitrogen in living biota and is likely to have contributed some of the fossil organic nitrogen in kerogen. We review the nitrogen isotope biogeochemistry of chitin and present preliminary results suggesting interaction between kerogen and ammonium during thermal maturation. Modern arthropod chitin may shift its nitrogen isotope ratio by a few per mil depending on the chemical method of chitin preparation, mostly because N-containing non-amino-sugar components in chemically complex chitin cannot be removed quantitatively. Acid hydrolysis of chemically complex chitin and subsequent ion-chromatographic purification of the "deacetylated chitin-monomer" D-glucosamine (in hydrochloride form) provides a chemically well-defined, pure amino-sugar substrate for reproducible, high-precision determination of ??15N values in chitin. ??15N values of chitin exhibited a variability of about one per mil within an individual's exoskeleton. The nitrogen isotope ratio differed between old and new exoskeletons by up to 4 per mil. A strong dietary influence on the ??15N value of chitin is indicated by the observation of increasing ??15N values of chitin from marine crustaceans with increasing trophic level. Partial biodegradation of exoskeletons does not significantly influence ??15N values of remaining, chemically preserved amino sugar in chitin. Diagenesis and increasing thermal maturity of sedimentary organic matter, including chitin-derived nitrogen-rich moieties, result in humic compounds much different from chitin and may significantly change bulk ??15N values. Hydrous pyrolysis of immature source rocks at 330??C in contact with 15N-enriched NH4Cl, under conditions of artificial oil generation, demonstrates the abiogenic incorporation of inorganic nitrogen into carbon-bound nitrogen in kerogen. Not all organic nitrogen in natural, thermally mature kerogen is therefore necessarily derived from original organic matter, but may partly result from reaction with ammonium-containing pore waters.
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Chitin: 'Forgotten' Source of Nitrogen: From Modern Chitin to Thermally Mature Kerogen: Lessons from Nitrogen Isotope Ratios