Probing the Structural Details of Chitin Nanocrystal–Water Interfaces by Three-Dimensional Atomic Force Microscopy

Ayhan Yurtsever*, Pei Xi Wang, Fabio Priante, Ygor Morais Jaques, Kazuki Miyata, Mark J. MacLachlan, Adam S. Foster, Takeshi Fukuma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Chitin is one of the most abundant and renewable natural biopolymers. It exists in the form of crystalline microfibrils and is the basic structural building block of many biological materials. Its surface crystalline structure is yet to be reported at the molecular level. Herein, atomic force microscopy (AFM) in combination with molecular dynamics simulations reveals the molecular-scale structural details of the chitin nanocrystal (chitin NC)–water interface. High-resolution AFM images reveal the molecular details of chitin chain arrangements at the surfaces of individual chitin NCs, showing highly ordered, stable crystalline structures almost free of structural defects or disorder. 3D-AFM measurements with submolecular spatial resolution demonstrate that chitin NC surfaces interact strongly with interfacial water molecules creating stable, well-ordered hydration layers. Inhomogeneous encapsulation of the underlying chitin substrate by these hydration layers reflects the chitin NCs’ multifaceted surface character with different chain arrangements and molecular packing. These findings provide important insights into chitin NC structures at the molecular level, which is critical for developing the properties of chitin-based nanomaterials. Furthermore, these results will contribute to a better understanding of the chemical and enzymatic hydrolysis of chitin and other native polysaccharides, which is also essential for the enzymatic conversion of biomass.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2200320
Number of pages14
JournalSmall Methods
Issue number9
Early online date9 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • atomic force microscopy
  • chitin nanocrystals
  • chitin–water interactions
  • hydration layers
  • molecular dynamics simulations
  • polysaccharides
  • α-chitin


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