Some scientists think that crab shells now being dumped by the tons into landfills can be put to good medical use--as surgical sutures.
Paul Austin, a Du Pont Co. retiree who helped develop nylon, has invented a process to make a strong fiber out of "chitin," the main ingredient in crab shells. "There is a combination of things that make it attractive. It has slight wound-healing properties. It is absorbable, so you put it in and the body actually absorbs it, and it is non-allergenic," he said.
Although chitin is still in the development stage, Michael Mau of the Hosho-Somerset Crabmeal Co. of Crisfield, Md., said his firm is gearing up to produce the material. "They're manufacturing this in Japan, so it's not pie in the sky," he said. "It's just beginning to burgeon because all these uses are emerging from the research and development phase."
John Clayton Brooks, a Cambridge, Md., crab dealer, added, "It would be very nice if we could sell it to suture manufacturers. Right now, most of it is going to the landfill."
Some crab "chum"--the shells and guts of the blue crab--was sold for fertilizer and poultry feed, but Brooks said the costs of storing and transporting the material have become prohibitive.