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Biological Chemistry


Recycling App, The Buzz On Beer, Of Mice And Men

by Marc S. Reisch
December 12, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 50


Credit: American Chemistry Council
Bin It!: Recycling despite the distractions.
Screen grab from iPhone app game Bin It!
Credit: American Chemistry Council
Bin It!: Recycling despite the distractions.

With Thanksgiving behind us and other holidays yet to come, many of us will end up dealing with a lot of leftovers by the new year. No, not just the food, but all the cans and bottles left behind after the feasting and drinking.

It’s a virtuous task sorting through all those containers so they can be recycled, but it is also sheer drudgery. What if we could convince ourselves that recycling is really fun? The folks at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) have turned recycling into a free game that you can download and put on your phone.

Yes, there’s an app for that. It’s called Bin It! and is available for the iPhone and iPad. The game is simple yet engaging. Bin It! players toss plastic bottles into various recycling bins while dealing with distractions from animals, flashing cameras, and tricky breezes. Sounds like a typical day in the Newscripts gang’s kitchen.

But what is the incentive to play such a game? The game converts players’ successful tosses into the number of T-shirts, sweaters, and sleeping bags that could be made from recycled plastics. Alas, all the prizes are virtual.

Steve Russell, vice president of ACC’s plastics division, says, “We hope people play Bin It! and then remember to ‘bin it’ at home, on the road, at the office, at ball games … everywhere.” Wishful thinking, perhaps, but Russell’s heart is in the right place.

Since it was released in mid-November, the app has received a rating of four out of five stars from a total of five reviewers. ACC says it might develop Bin It! for Android and BlackBerry phones, so all smartphone users can experience the joy of recycling.

There are sure to be a few beer bottles tossed into recycling bins during the holidays. And we’ve probably all asked ourselves, once the bottles end up there, why do fruit flies seem to congregate around them?

Well, wonder no more. Anupama Dahanukar, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues found that a protein receptor dubbed Gr64e, associated with sensory neurons in flies’ mouths, draws the flies to beer like bees to honey. The researchers recently published their results in Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/nn.2944).

What those flies are after is not so much a good buzz as some good nutrition. And in the case of beer and other fermentation products, Gr64e helps the insects detect glycerol, a sweet-tasting and nutritious compound that yeasts make during fermentation. The researchers did not say whether humans had similar receptors.

Fruit flies might know what’s good for them, but sometimes humans don’t. Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have developed transgenic mice to better discover whether heat-processed food might cause colorectal cancer (Mol. Carcinogen., DOI: 10.1002/mc.20869).

Credit: Dahanukar Lab/UC Riverside
Flying under the influence: Fruit flies have a taste for beer.
Fruit flies have a sensory receptor that attracts them to beer
Credit: Dahanukar Lab/UC Riverside
Flying under the influence: Fruit flies have a taste for beer.

In proportion to their size, the transgenic mice produce the same amount of sulfotransferase enzymes in their intestines as humans do. Unlike human guts, mice guts don’t normally make these enzymes, which are important for digestion and hormone regulation. When the transgenic mice were fed or injected with 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenyl­imidazo[4,5-b]pyridine, a by-product of heat-treated foods, they developed 30−80% more colorectal tumors than run-of-the-mill mice.

So the transgenic mouse models seem to suggest that men and mice alike should steer clear of well-done food. The study didn’t address the risk of uncooked or undercooked foods.


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