Chitin is a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, which assembles into microfibrils of about 20 sugar chains. These microfibrils serve as a structural component of natural biocomposites found in cell walls and specialized extracellular matrices such as cuticles and peritrophic membranes. Chitin synthesis is performed by a wide range of organisms including fungi and insects. The underlying biosynthetic machinery is highly conserved and involves several enzymes, of which the chitin synthase is the key enzyme. This membrane integral glycosyltransferase catalyzes the polymerization reaction. Most of what we know about chitin synthesis derives from studies of fungal and insect systems. In this review, common principles and differences will be worked out at the levels of gene organization, enzymatic properties, cellular localization and regulation. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.