A chemical found in everything from soda bottles to store receipts could affect genes that play a role in social behavior across generations, according to researchers at the UVA School of Medicine.

Bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA, was shown in a recent study to disrupt how those genes develop in the brains of fetuses through at least four generations of mice.

According to Dr. Emilie Rissman, the lead investigator of the study, the chemical—given to the mothers in doses proportional to what humans ingest—left earlier generations of mice less likely to interact with others, compared to a control group that was not exposed to BPA.

But by the fourth generation—the “great grandchildren” of those initially exposed to BPA—the chemical was shown to have the opposite effect, causing the mice to interact more with others when compared to the control group.

“This shows that even teeny tiny doses of BPA can have a huge effect in development,” Rissman said. “While we can’t say for certain these effects would be the same in humans, mice are a good model of what to expect.”

Rissman said that while her team found that different genes were affected by the chemical between the earlier and later generations, they were unsure what caused that change, but plan further studies in an effort to pinpoint the cause.

BPA is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which can be used in food packaging, where it has been shown to leach into food. The FDA last summer banned BPA from being used in baby bottles and cups.

Where BPA can be found

In general, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are very unlikely to contain BPA. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle code 7 may be made with BPA.

From U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

DON'T

Do not put very hot or boiling liquid that you intend to consume in plastic containers made with BPA. BPA levels rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food.

DO

Be sure to discard all bottles with scratches, as these may harbor bacteria and could lead to release of BPA.