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Chitin vs. Cellulose: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 28, 2023
Chitin and cellulose are both polysaccharides, but chitin is found in arthropod exoskeletons and fungi, while cellulose is a plant cell wall component.

Key Differences

Chitin is a long-chain polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of glucose, and is found mainly in the exoskeletons of arthropods and the cell walls of fungi. Cellulose, on the other hand, is a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to many thousands of β(1→4) linked D-glucose units, and it forms the primary structural component of green plants' cell walls.
In the context of biological function, chitin provides structural support and protection, being a key component in the rigid exoskeletons of insects, spiders, and other arthropods. Cellulose also provides structural support, but it does so in the cell walls of plants, giving rigidity and strength to plant cells and, by extension, to the entire plant.
From a chemical standpoint, the structural difference between chitin and cellulose lies in the presence of a nitrogen-containing acetyl group in chitin. This makes chitin more complex and provides different properties compared to cellulose, which is purely made up of glucose units.
When considering human uses, chitin has found applications in medical and industrial fields, such as in wound dressings and biodegradable plastics. Cellulose, in contrast, has a broader range of applications including paper production, textiles, and as a source of dietary fiber.
In terms of evolutionary significance, the emergence of chitin in arthropods and fungi represents a pivotal adaptation, allowing for protective exoskeletons and diverse fungal structures. Cellulose, being the most abundant organic polymer on Earth, has been instrumental in the evolution of plants, enabling them to grow taller and colonize a variety of habitats.

Comparison Chart


Arthropod exoskeletons, fungi
Plant cell walls

Chemical Structure

Contains N-acetylglucosamine
Composed of D-glucose units

Biological Function

Structural support in animals and fungi
Structural support in plants

Human Uses

Wound dressings, bioplastics
Paper, textiles, dietary fiber

Evolutionary Significance

Adaptation for protection in some organisms
Enables plant growth and diversity

Chitin and Cellulose Definitions


Chitin is a versatile biopolymer used in various industrial and medical applications.
Chitin-based wound dressings are known for their biocompatibility.


Cellulose is used in various industries, from paper manufacturing to textiles.
Cellulose is the raw material for the paper you write on.


Chitin serves as a major component in the exoskeletons of insects and arachnids.
When a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it leaves behind chitin-based structures.


Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth, crucial for plant life.
The cotton in your T-shirt is primarily made of cellulose.


Chitin is a tough, protective biopolymer found in the exoskeletons of arthropods.
The crab's hard shell is made of chitin.


Cellulose is a polysaccharide composed of linear chains of glucose units.
Researchers are exploring how cellulose can be converted into biofuel.


Chitin is a long-chain polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of glucose.
Scientists are studying the structure of chitin to develop new materials.


Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate forming the primary structural component of plant cell walls.
The strength of trees is largely due to cellulose in their cells.


Chitin is a key component in the cell walls of fungi, providing rigidity.
The presence of chitin makes fungal cell walls different from plant cell walls.


Cellulose serves as dietary fiber in human nutrition, aiding digestion.
Eating vegetables provides you with essential cellulose for healthy digestion.


A nitrogen-containing polysaccharide that is a tough, protective, semitransparent substance and is the principal component of arthropod exoskeletons and the cell walls of certain fungi.


A polysaccharide, (C6H10O5)n, that is composed of glucose monomers and is the main constituent of the cell walls of plants. It is used in the manufacture of numerous products, including paper, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and insulation.


(carbohydrate) A complex polysaccharide, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, found in the exoskeletons of arthropods and in the cell walls of fungi; thought to be responsible for some forms of asthma in humans.


A white amorphous horny substance forming the harder part of the outer integument of insects, crustacea, and various other invertebrates; entomolin.


A tough semitransparent horny substance; the principal component of the exoskeletons of arthropods and the cell walls of certain fungi


What is cellulose?

Cellulose is a polysaccharide that forms the primary structural component of plant cell walls.

Where is chitin found in nature?

Chitin is found in the exoskeletons of insects, spiders, and other arthropods, as well as in fungal cell walls.

Where is cellulose found in nature?

Cellulose is found in the cell walls of plants.

What are the uses of chitin?

Chitin is used in medical applications, biodegradable plastics, and other industrial products.

Can humans digest chitin?

No, humans cannot digest chitin.

How does cellulose contribute to sustainability?

Cellulose-based products, such as biodegradable plastics and textiles, support sustainable practices.

How are chitin and cellulose different in structure?

Chitin contains N-acetylglucosamine units, while cellulose is made of glucose units.

How does chitin benefit organisms?

Chitin provides structural support and protection for organisms like insects and fungi.

How does chitin contribute to sustainability?

Chitin-based products offer sustainable alternatives in various fields like packaging and agriculture.

Can chitin be used in medicine?

Yes, chitin is used in wound healing, drug delivery, and tissue engineering.

Can cellulose be used as a biofuel?

Yes, cellulose can be converted into biofuel through various processes.

Is chitin present in human bodies?

No, chitin is not naturally present in human bodies.

Are chitin and cellulose similar in any way?

Both chitin and cellulose are polysaccharides and play crucial structural roles in different organisms.

What is chitin?

Chitin is a tough biopolymer found in the exoskeletons of arthropods and cell walls of fungi.

What are the uses of cellulose?

Cellulose is used for paper production, textiles, and as a source of dietary fiber.

How does cellulose benefit plants?

Cellulose provides structural strength and rigidity to plant cells and overall plant architecture.

Is chitin biodegradable?

Yes, chitin is biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

Can humans digest cellulose?

Humans can't digest cellulose, but it's important as dietary fiber.

Is cellulose biodegradable?

Yes, cellulose is also biodegradable.

Is cellulose present in human bodies?

No, cellulose is not present in human bodies, but it's consumed as part of the diet.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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