Water-Soluble Pure Chitosan Developed

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 7, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Water-Soluble Pure Chitosan Developed


In a matter of a few years you could be drinking water containing chitosan from your tap while enlisted soldiers dine on cafeteria food laced with the same substance.

Chitosan is obtained from Chitin, a substance naturally found in the shells of crustaceans and the exoskeletons of insects. Crab and shrimp shells are used for the commercial extraction of the substance. Once chitin goes through a process known as deacethylation, chitosan is produced.

Chitosan may some day be found in cosmetics and very meats and vegetables you consume may be fed and treated with chitosan-laced livestock feeds and fertilizers.

All this has now become a commercial possibility as the world's first 100 percent water soluble chitosan has been developed by a Korean husband- and-wife team, with the man handling the manufacturing process and his better half taking up the marketing and technical side.

Suh Sang-bong, 42-year-old former Korea Institute of Technology (KIST) researcher and his wife You Hyang-ja, 40, have already established two venture firms called Ja Kwang and RNC Tech. The former specializes in producing chitosan and the latter takes charge of using chitosan in the food industry.

``International orders are pouring in only three months into operation, and we are in the process of expanding our factory capacity,'' Suh boasted. The market value of the chitosan his company makes is five times higher than conventionally-available forms of chitosan due to the technology involved and easily 100 times higher when used in high tech areas.

Chitosan is used in medicine, food, cosmetics, health care, agriculture and stock breeding among various other applications. The venture operation has won a national project grant worth 500 million won for using chitosan to purify water in still and waste water treatment systems and for using it as an ingredient in food and drinking water.

Chitosan helps the metabolism of plants and animals. The water soluble form of pure chitosan can be used in agriculture, military foods, drinking water and livestock feeds to produce better health in humans and in the plants and animals they ultimately consume.

``Some chitin inevitably remains in the final chitosan, but my method produces 99 percent pure chitosan. Chitin is not metabolized by the body and the substance leaves the body through natural bodily excretions,'' Suh explained on the organic safety of his product.

Previous methods of producing water soluble chitosan involved dissolving the substance in weak acids such as acetic, lactic and formic acids for human consumption. The new method developed by the couple breaks up Chitosan polymers into various usable sizes using ultrasonic vibration, and filters them through a special membrane system to various precalibrated equal sizes. ``They are graded as medical, cosmetic, food, industrial and special (standard reagents) depending on the size of the broken polymer and are high performance and water soluble,'' the scientist-turned-businessman said.

Although, chitosan is available in large quantities, previous methods of making them water soluble involved making them into compounds through a chemical treatment. The quantity produced was limited by the laborious methods themselves. ``But the chitosan I make is pure stuff, so there are no side effects, and it can be easily mass produced in any desired amount without using any chemicals,'' Suh said.

Suh previously developed an artificial kidney and an artificial oxygenator while working at KIST. The latter is used to dissolve oxygen into blood during heart operations when the heart is temporarily shut down. The membrane technology he learned how to use in his research has proved crucial in developing a system for separating chitosan into various wanted sizes after breaking up the polymer through ultrasonic vibration.

The road to success was not without painful personal sacrifice.

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