Chitin is a key structural component in the exoskeleton of arthropods (insects, mites, and crustaceans), the eggs and gut linings of nematodes, and the cell walls of fungi. It is the second most abundant polysaccharide (sugar) on earth and is completely water insoluble. Plants and soil microbes respond to chitin in several unique ways that can be utilized to improve soil and plant health including improved agronomic and horticultural production.
Due to its insolubility in water, nature relies upon the production of enzymes (chitinases) by soil microbes to degrade chitin in the soil. Many of those chitinolytic microbes are also associated with biological control of plant pathogens and nematodes and plant growth promotion including most Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Trichoderma, and Streptomyces species. When used within an integrated systems-based approach, chitin-based amendments provide a food source for beneficial microbes, altering soil microbial community composition in favor of those associated with improved plant growth, disease and pest suppression.
Chitin also contributes to the stimulation of adventitious root growth and systemic acquired resistance to plant pathogens by providing a metabolic food source for plant growth promoting rhizobacteria in the soil and facilitating the promotion of genes in plants responsible for systemic acquired resistance.
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