Elephant names, hybrid work mode & space tourists | Last Week in Science (16 Jun 2024)

Call me by my name

Humans are not the only ones to give names to the other members of their species (and also of other species). Dolphins and parrots are also known to call members of their species. They do so by mimicking the calls that are produced by a specific individual most often. A recent study has now found that even elephants call each other by their names but for this they do not mimic the sounds produced by that individual.

Elephants have a sophisticated social structure. They are known to make complex sounds for communication and can also mimic other new sounds. They are known to produce different types of sounds, amongst which rumbles are one of the common calls. Individual rumbles can be distinguished and are produced in different types of behaviours like for calling an elephant who might be away from the group, greeting another elephant, and for comforting or waking up the calfs by their mothers.

Scientists at Cornell University recorded deep rumbles of female African elephants and their offspring. They then used machine learning to analyse the calls. The model that they created could identify which animal is being called by a specific rumble. Next they played back the calls to the elephants. They found specific elephants responding to specific sounds by coming close to the speaker and also making more sounds, indicating they are recognising being called.

It is a fascinating study because it means elephants can also give names to other elephants just like us. Further studies can help in understanding the evolution of language like how we learnt to make and associate sounds with objects and individuals.

What can we learn from 'Space Tourists'?

The studies done so far on the effects of space travel on the human body reveal loss of bone density and muscle mass, elongation of telomeres - protects the ends of chromosomes present in cells of the body which contain the DNA - and adverse effects on the immune system. These biological changes have been found in astronauts who have spent a long time ranging from 6 months to a year in space. Astronauts are physically and mentally trained for years to live in space unlike the general public who would want to travel to space as tourists. With the rise of space tourism, the need to understand its effects on human bodies of diverse age groups with diverse medical history has been realised.

Credit: Inspiration4.com

SapceX's Inspiration4 flight took four individuals, aged 29 - 51 years, to space in 2021 where they spent three days. While in the zero gravity of space, they collected their saliva, blood and urine samples, wore monitoring devices, performed ultrasounds on themselves, and gave cognitive tests. The results from the analysis of all the samples and data have been published this week. 

Scientists found some of the same changes in these individuals after spending 3 days in space that were seen only in astronauts who spent months in space, like lengthening of telomeres and changes in the working of the immune system. These individuals also faced dehydration and brain fog. Although these changes reversed after coming back to the Earth, while some reversed immediately others took upto three months. More studies are required to understand the effects on a diverse range of individuals. This knowledge can make space tourism more widespread and eventual habitation in space possible for humans.

Hybrid working is here to stay

The talks about how employees need to switch from working from home to in-office working have gained momentum. Research studies that were conducted on individuals who worked from home indicated a decline in performance. While many companies called employees back to working from the office full time, some chose a hybrid mode - where employees work from the office for 2-3 days and from home on the other days in a week. We do not know how the hybrid working style affects the performance of an employee, but a new study has found that the hybrid mode of working might be better than the full-time office working mode.

1612 employees of Trip.com were randomly assigned to either hybrid or full-time office working. They were then followed up for six months. The employees were given questionnaires where they would give a score between 1-10 to assess their job satisfaction and inclination to quit. Their performance, promotions, and quit rate were also taken into account. The findings suggest that employees who worked in hybrid mode were more satisfied and the quit rate decreased by one third. There was no effect on their performance or chances of promotion because of their work mode.