Tributyltin exposure in pregnant mice can lead to obesity in many successive generations, even if these young mice haven't been exposed to this chemical, says a new study.

Tributyltin (TBT) is used as a paint additive on ship and boat hulls, nets and buoys to keep organisms like bacteria and algae from attaching to the product. It is known to impair reproduction cycle in marine organisms.

Researchers found that even low doses of TBT were associated with a rise in obesity, increased body fat, liver fat and changes in genes that are associated with fat regulation. These changes didn't just show up in the generation of mice whose mothers were exposed to TBT, but also in mice whose parents were never exposed to the chemical.

The study was conducted by researchers led by Bruce Blumberg, UC Irvine professor of pharmaceutical sciences and developmental & cell biology. Blumberg said that the chemical belonged to a class called obesogen that increase the number of fat cells in the body, according to a news release.

Although TBT exposure is more likely to be associated with aquatic life, humans can be exposed to the chemical through PVC plastic particles that are present in the air. House dust can be a source for exposure as children spend a lot of time on floors and carpets. In adults, the exposure may also be from eating seafood that has a high level of TBT.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.