February 14 2006
. . . . .........
Studies of baboon behavior have implications for human relationships
'U' professor's research offers
insights into the relationship
between love and friendship
By Chad Brenner
Daily Science Writer
This Valentine's Day, the lovelorn would do well to
consult psychology Prof. Barbara Smuts, who literally
wrote the book on love - baboon love, that is. Sur-
prisingly, however, the many field studies described in
Smuts's book, "Sex and Friendship in Baboons," hold
many lessons for lovers both simian and Homo sapiens.
For one thing, courting a girl takes more than just
dinner and a movie. In fact, research suggests that one
way to enhance your relationship is to be friendly -
In her book, which first appeared in the mid-1980s,
Smuts suggests that understanding the relationship
between sex and friendship is the most important aspect
of understanding reproductive and courtship strategies.
For example, female baboons prefer to mate with males
who have been friendly with them and their offspring
in the past.
Smuts's extensive fieldwork is crucial to making
these conclusions. In an article she wrote for the New
York Times, she describes an intimate encounter. "I
once stumbled upon an infant baboon huddled in. the
corner of a cage at the local research station. A col-
league had rescued him after his mother was strangled
by a poacher's snare."
"Although he was kept in a warm, dry spot and fed
milk from an eyedropper, within a few hours his eyes
had glazed over; he was cold to the touch and seemed
barely alive. We concluded he was beyond help," Smuts
"Reluctant to let him die alone, I took his tiny body
to bed with me. A few hours later I was awakened by
a bright-eyed infant bouncing on my stomach. My col-
league pronounced a miracle," Smuts said of her experi-
Smuts found that this experience was an example of a
theory formulated by the late, prominent, psychologist
Harry Harlow of the University of Wisconsin. He sug-
gested that all the baboon needed "was a little contact
The story supports Harlow's theory that "wounded
(monkey) souls, if paired with a very young female
monkey, could be slowly coaxed back into connection
with others," Smuts added.
Smuts also explored the relevance and significance of
this finding about baboon interactions in similar male-
female relationships among humans. It is not hard to
extend the theory to humans who are deprived of ade-
quate love after being inflicted with extreme trauma.
Fortunately, this is not how students are usually
forced to deal with everyday relationships, but the find-
ing suggests the importance of physical interaction to
maintaining a personal relationship.
One classical theory of love predicts that humans
choose their mates solely according to physical traits.
Physical fitness would presumably be a product of good
genes; by mating with a fit individual, we will be assured
that our children have the best possible traits and thus
the best possibility of passing on our own genes.
Additionally, several researchers have shown that
when two animals engage in a mating ritual, two neu-
rotransmitters, or signaling molecules - vasopressin
and oxytocin - are released in the brain. They then
bind preferentially in "reward centers" of the brain,
making romantic interactions more pleasurable.
Some research has even suggested that monogamous
mammals have higher levels of vasopressin signals in
their reward centers. This indicates that their pleasure
systems were more highly activated than non-monoga-
Through two years of field study on long-term friend-
ships between males and females, Smuts showed that
social interactions between friendly pairs of baboons
were different from interactions of other members of
the baboon society.
She concluded that it was the friendship between two
animals that led to an increase in mating preference.
As Smuts develops more and more complex theories
about social interactions among animals, she hopes to
contribute greater understanding to human relationships
and the role of communication.
And in an age of technologically-assisted love - from
coy emails to coded text messages to constant streams
of instant messages - Smuts wants to get to the heart
of the question.
"How do other animals develop trusting relationships
in the absence of spoken language?"
But that's the subject of another study.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY STEVEN TAI AND DAVID TUMAN
GRAPHIC BY GERVIS MENZIES
Exploring the potential of biodiesel technology
'U' buses already run on biodiesel, and
the technology is becoming increasingly
available for wider use
By A.J. Hogg
Daily Science Writer
Every time you step on a University bus, at least 20 percent of the fuel it
burns is already renewable, sustainable and domestically produced.
All University vehicles with diesel engines run on B20 biodiesel, a blend
of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel, said Renee Jordan,
University Fleet Manager. Biodiesel is a diesel fuel made from soybean
oil, recycled waste cooking oils, or any other vegetable oil and even oil
produced by algae.
If an engine can run on petroleum diesel, it can run on biodiesel.
"Biodiesel is a renewable, sustainable, environmentally friendly option
that's already a mature technology," said Steven Bertman, professor of
chemistry at Western Michigan University. In order to be used, biodiesel
doesn't require a huge push of research,and development.
"I keep hearing 'hydrogen fuel,' keep hearing 'future,' keep hearing
'2030,' " Bertman said, exasperated. "We can use biodiesel now."
Biodiesel's huge advantage as a fuel comes from its renewability. The
carbon dioxide emitted by burning biodiesel was taken from the atmosphere
just a year earlier, when the soybean plant removed it to photosynthesize
sugars for food. This means that there is no net year-to-year change in
atmospheric CO2 due to biodiesel combustion.
Increased atmospheric CO2, a greenhouse gas, is a major cause of cli-
mate change. By not producing CO2 from long-stored fossil fuels, biodiesel
helps keep atmospheric CO2 from rising, mitigating climate change.
In 1895, Rudolph Diesel designed his eponymous engine to run on a variety
of fuels, which include nearly any hydrocarbon from gasoline to peanut oil.
"Diesels have the advantage of being inherently more efficient," Bertman
This is due to the use of compression ignition, which ignites the fuel with-
out a spark plug, and higher fuel compression ratios than gasoline engines.
However, running on biodiesel is not without problems.
"It's not a perfect solution," Bertman conceded. "It's still internal com-
bustion, and emits carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide."
Both compounds are pollutants that affect air quality.
"But compared to the gas engine, it's a huge step forward," he said.
An October 2002 EPA study reported that emissions from soy-based B20
biodiesel, compared to petroleum diesel, have 21 percent fewer hydrocar-
bons, 11 percent less carbon monoxide and 10 percent less particulate mat-
ter - the black smoke you see coming out of diesel engine tailpipes. These
benefits increase with increasing amounts of biodiesel in the blend. The
only downside is that nitrogen oxide emission - a key step in creating
ozone pollution - increased by 2 percent.
Bertman said there are three major challenges to revving up biodiesel
use: the availability of the biodiesel in retail locations, cold weather limita-
tions and the supply of raw oil to be converted into biodiesel.
According to the Alternative Fuel Data Center at the United States Depart-
mPnt of Fnnrm, therear lr nrenntiv nearly three timaes s manv hindiscel
Senior University garage supervisor Keith Johnson holds a sample of virgin feed-
stock envirodiesel. The envirodiesel, which is made from soybean oil, is mixed
with regular diesel feul and used in University buses.
He praises biodiesel for being non-flammable, biodegradable, non-toxic
and an excellent engine lubricant. Many people make their own small-batch
biodiesel for personal use, and Bertman often demonstrates how easy this is
by making it in two-liter plastic bottles during public talks on the topic.
Biodiesel is made via a chemical reaction called transesterification. You start
with fresh vegetable oil or waste grease, chemically known as triglycerides.
You add methanol and, as a catalyst, potassium hydroxide. After mixing this
solution, you end up with glycerine, which can be composted, and fatty acid
methyl esters, also known as biodiesel. You then separate out the glycerine and
heat the biodiesel to remove any unreacted alcohol and water.
Triglycerides are "nature's answer to storing solar energy," Bertman said.
"They're chock full of energy."
"That's why there is oil in seeds - the plant is trying to pack as much
energy in as small a space as possible."
Using cropland to cultivate seed oil for biodiesel would cause domestic
fuel production to compete with food production. This conflict might be
avoided by using algae, which can grow in salt water, to produce triglycer-
ides that can be converted into biodiesel. Some algae are up to 60 percent
oil by mass and grow very quickly.
The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory
issued a report in 1998, summarizing the research done from 1980 to 1996
with an emphasis on algae for biodiesel production. It concludes: "These
analyses indicate that significant potential land, water and C02 resources
exist to support this technology." Algae could supply enough oil to meet our
transportation and home heating needs with biodiesel.
Despite indications that using algae to produce oil for renewable, envi-
ronmentally friendly, sustainable biodiesel production, the research was
shut down in 1996 due to budget cuts.
"These are technological hurdles - not deal breakers," Bertman con-
cluded. "Biodiesel has the potential of being a really important near-term
solution - weu nld have the nroductinn canabilitv if we tried "
"It's not a perfect solution ...
but compared to the gas engine,
it's a huge step forward."
- Steven Bertman
Western Michigan University
each fuel delivery, but it is often Wacker Oil that supplies the fleet.
Wacker Oil is located in Manchester, a half hour southwest of Ann Arbor,
and looks like any BP station on the nation's roads. A close look at the fuel
pumps reveals a difference. Among the usual grades of gas and diesel, you
can see a biodiesel pump. Wacker Oil had the first retail biodiesel pump in
"We have a B20 pump winterized down to 20 below, same as with diesel,"
said Wacker Oil's Kim Mahrle.
In the spring and fall they have B50 on a pump, and in summer they carry
B99. If you prefer any other percent, they can blend it for you any time of
In 2005, Wacker Oil distributed 1.3 million gallons of the 3 million gal-
lons of biodiesel used in Michigan. The United States used 75 million gal-
lons the same year. Compared to the billions of gallons of petroleum diesel,
"it doesn't sound like much, but it's a start," said Mahrle.
"We just jumped into it with both feet," said Mahrle.
Wacker Oil has sold biodiesel since 2000, when they received a bid for
B20 from the University's Transportation Services Department. It was new
to them. Mahrle reealled thinking, "I guess we're going to have to figure
out what this is." Six months later, they had tracked down a source.
While biodiesel is "very close to production in Michigan," Marhle said
that for the time being, they ship it into the state via semi-trailer or rail
from as far away as Florida or Texas.
Last week, petroleum diesel at Wacker Oil cost $2.50/gallon, and the B20
In January 2005, new incentive credits went into effect as part of the
American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. This allowed a one-cent rebate per
gallon for every 1 percent of biodiesel in the fuel blend. Therefore, B20 fuel
gives a rebate of 20 cents per gallon, B50 results in a 50-cent credit, and
B99 fuel refunds 99 cents.
In the cold months, when only B20 is available at the pump, biodiesel
costs end up near the cost of petroleum diesel, but in warmer weather, when
higher blends are sold, biodiesel is often cheaper than petroleum diesel,due
to this incentive credit.
"We pass it on in full," Mahrle said.
In order to be sold, biodiesel needs to meet American Society for Testing
and Materials specifications for its composition. Producers and marketers
of biodiesel have developed a more stringent standard, a BQ9000 certifi-
cate, which includes handling, records and tracking of the fuel.
Close to home