Bee colonies are threatened in all industrialized nations. Given that the survival of bees is crucial for human sustainability, there is a great urgency to improve by all means the ways in which colonies could thrive.
In 2009 I founded the Brussels Urban Bee laboratory, the place of action for a group of artists, scientists and technologists to observe bee colonies in non intrusive set-ups and a vehicle to raise public awareness via art installations, workshops and performances.
The Guerilla Beehive is one of the art/science projects run by the lab. It proposes a shelter for swarming bee colonies: a biomimetic design that is 3D-printed with Chitin forthcoming from the bees' exosceleton.
The shelter supports (urban) bee colonies in their roles as pollinators and caretakers of biodiversity rather than as honey producers. In this project, bees, humans and plants - are working together to assure a sound basis for the further development of our ecosystem.
Can we print a beehive with chitin forthcoming from the bees exosceleton?
What is Chitin?
Chitin is a naturally renewable source, non-toxic, non-allergenic, anti-microbial and biodegradable.
It is found in the exosceleton of arthropods, the invertebrates animals amongst which the insects and the species Apis mellifera (Principles of Insect Physiology - docu: pdf in bees-folder).
Chemistry of Chitin?
Chitin (C8H13O5N)n is a long-chain polymer of an N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of glucose, and is found in many places throughout the natural world. It is a characteristic component of the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans (e.g., crabs, lobsters and shrimps) and insects, the radulae of molluscs, and the beaks and internal shells of cephalopods, including squid and octopuses. The structure of chitin is comparable to the polysaccharide cellulose, forming crystalline nanofibrils or whiskers. In terms of function, it may be compared to the protein keratin. Chitin has proved versatile for several medicinal, industrial and biotechnological purposes.
wikipedia - Chitosan
Chitin is a polysaccharide , a type of carbohydrate that has a basic structure of a repeating chain of sugar molecules. Chitin is analogous in structure to cellulose, the compound that provides structural support to plant tissues.
Chitin does not work alone in forming exoskeletons. It is associated with a number of proteins, including an elastic, rubberlike substance called resilin. The identity and nature of these proteins determines whether the exoskeleton will be rigid, like a beetle's shell, or soft and flexible like the joints of a crab leg. Chitin also associates with nonprotein compounds, such as the calcium carbonate that is part of the shells of crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, and shrimp.
What are the properties of Chitin and how can it be extracted?
- The tough shell protects from dessication , or dehydration
- It is an effective protection against some predators
Chitin Extraction from Crustacean Shells
Chitosan is a biological product with cationic (positive electrical charge) properties. It is of great interest, all the more so because most polysaccharides of the same types are neutral or negatively charged. By controlling the molecular weight, the degree of deacetylation and purity, it is possible to produce a broad range of chitosans and derivatives that can be used for industrial, dietary, cosmetic and biomedical purposes. Together these properties have led to the development of hundreds of applications so far.
There are plethora of literature, books and conference proceedings that documented the multiple uses of the chitosan4. It is out of the scope of this article to describe extensively every applications of chitosan. We will concentrate on the major uses of chitosan and the most promising future applications. Applications of chitosan can be classified mainly in 3 categories according to the requirement on the purity of the chitosan:
• Technical grade for agriculture and water treatment
• Pure grade for the food and cosmetics industries
• Ultra-pure grade for biopharmaceutical uses
Is research done on 3D-printing with Chitin?
Water-based robotic fabrication: large scale additive manufacturing
chitin 3D printing
additive manufacturing with o.a. Chitosan
computer aided tissue engineering: recent 3D bioprinting techniques
mechanic biomaterials deposition
MIT - mediated matter
Will the bee colony tolerate Chitin as a constructing material or will they destroy it (= eat it)?