If you’ve been reading the news this year, we wouldn’t blame you for being curled in foetal position by the end of 2017.
Too often, the news is like a twisted game of Would You Rather, where you’re suddenly confronted with thoughts of ISIS, nuclear missile strikes or rare pandemics within five minutes of waking up. It’s little wonder that your most common Facebook reactionsto Australian news this year were “sad” and “angry”.
They say history tends towards progress, but it can be hard to keep sight of this when we bear witness to violence and misery through a device that most of us carry 24/7.
So to balance the doom and gloom, here are 12 good news stories you probably missed in 2017.
Scientists make old cells young again
Turning back the clock on our bodies is most people’s dream. We could be a step closer with a breakthrough discovery from University of Exeter researchers, who’ve rejuvenated old cells so they look and behave like young cells again — within hours.
They’ve done this by applying chemicals based on a substance in red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries.
The discovery could lead to therapies that tackle the degeneration of our bodies, which could help prevent chronic diseases.
NASA and Uber join forces to develop flying taxis
Flying cars could be more than a cliched dream for the future thanks to a new partnership between NASA and Uber to develop “Uber Elevate”. In the not too distant future, you could order an uberAIR craft via an app and cut your commute time drastically, for the same price as a standard Uber X ride, according to the company.
Uber plans to test four-passenger flying taxis in Los Angeles and Dallas by 2020, with the hope of launching the service commercially in time for LA’s 2028 Olympics.
The “flying taxis” will be an electric fleet of vertical take-off and landing vehicles that the company says are quieter, safer and more environmentally sound than helicopters.
Initially, the aircraft will have pilots with a view to automating them in future, much like Uber’s development of driverless cars. They will take off from a network of “vertiports” built on existing carparks and helipads as well as from unused roadside land.
However, Uber’s ambitious timeline has left some sceptical, with Deloitte saying the service is unlikely to be operational before 2050, and Forbes saying the schedule “seems impossible”.
Muslim hackers unite to wipe ISIS off the internet
As the war against ISIS rages on, Muslim hackers are staging resistance online and documenting their efforts with the hashtags #OpIsis and #OpIceIsis.
On November 17, a coalition of hackers took down several ISIS-associated websites and continued to mount attacks on the terrorist group’s news agency, “Amaq”. In April, hackers installed a virus on the propaganda site that allowed them to activate visitors’ cameras, log their keystrokes, steal files, read phone messages, take screenshots, detect locations and collect contacts. Hackers also created a fake version of Amaq’s Android mobile app to track extremists.
The hacktivist group Di5s3nSi0N claims to have also infiltrated several ISIS channels on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which has become ISIS’s platform of choice following crackdowns on Twitter.
Hacktivist leader “Mikro” says technology companies and governments are not doing enough to stop ISIS online.
Mikro warns that while hackers are aggravating ISIS it’s a case of “whack a mole”, with new sites popping up to replace disabled platforms.
Rats are protecting elephants from landmines
Rats are protecting elephants on their migration routes across Southern Africa, sniffing out land mines that they are too small to trigger.
The rats are deployed by Belgian charity APOPO, who’ve been tasked by the Zimbabwean government with clearing landmines inside the largest conservation area in the world, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
But it’s not just endangered wildlife like elephants, lions and tigers at risk — the mines threaten Zimbabwean communities who are barred from accessing water sources, trading routes and land for grazing their livestock.
Clearing the region could bring millions in eco-tourism, and it’s a conceivable goal, with neighbouring Mozambique now mine-free after 22 years of work by government and charities.
According to APOPO, their HeroRats have located over 106,000 mines as well as detecting tuberculosis in 12,000 undiagnosed patients.
Supporters can “adopt” (sponsor) or gift a Herorat online.
Prison inmates give their food to hungry kids
This Christmas, an inmate at NSW’s Mid North Coast Correctional centre decided it was time to give back to the charity that was feeding his child in his absence.
Together with the prison chaplain, he enlisted fellow prisoners to donate money from their modest wages to buy food for hungry kids in their area, South Kempsey. Prisoners without a job donated food from their own breakfasts instead. All 650 prisoners contributed in one way or another, according to one inmate, and together they stockpiled seven weeks worth of food for the No Kid Hungry project at The Saving Place.
Correctional Service Governor John O’Shea said he had never seen a prison program so popular, explaining that the inmates were motivated by their own first-hand experiences of living in disadvantaged circumstances in the local community.
“These men have been through tough times themselves,” he said. “If they can put food in the belly of one child, you cannot put into words or money how much it means for inmates and their rehabilitation.”
Vomiting fungi could solve global plastic problem
On its own, plastic can take up to a thousand years to break down, if it ever does.
But international research is showing fungi can decompose tough plastics, in much the same way as it clears dead wood from a forest floor.
To be specific, it’s fungi’s “mycelium” that’s doing the work here — a furry, web-like substance that grows off the fungus and “vomits” enzymes onto materials to decompose them.
Mycelium has the potential to clean up overflowing landfills, in a time when less than 5 per cent of the world’s plastic is recycled.
And that’s not all it has to offer: mycelium is a tough substance that’s flame repellent and water retardant.
Queensland mycologist Dr. Sandra Tuszynska suggests it could one day replace plastics, bricks and even metals.
Scientists remove diseased genes from human embryo
A game-changing tool named CRISPR is allowing scientists to edit DNA for the first time. While experiments are taking place all over the world, this is the first time the technology has been successfully used to repair mutant genes in a human embryo, and it offers hope of preventing inherited diseases.
The research team, led by the Oregon Health and Science University, targeted a heart defect known for killing young athletes.
They were surprised to discover that if scientists kick start the process, embryos can help repair mutant genes themselves.
Even better, the mutant gene would be eliminated from the bloodline, preventing it from being passed down to the embryo’s future offspring.
Facebook uses artificial intelligence to prevent suicide
After years of consultation with mental health organisations, Facebook has unveiled a new “life saving” plan to use artificial intelligence to recognise posts and live streams expressing suicidal thoughts. Currently, the platform allows users to report posts when they are concerned their friends may be at risk of self-harm.
The AI software could pre-empt the need for friends to intervene, allowing Facebook to send help faster.
The software will flag concerning posts to human moderators who can send mental health resources to the user at risk or their friends, or contact local emergency responders.
Facebook plans to roll out the software in all regions besides the European Union due to its privacy laws.
When Adriana Boschin sat down to watch Lateline, she never expected the father she’d last seen at 16 to appear on her television.
Her now 89-year old father Aldo was speaking in a segment on funerals about how he had pre-purchased a no-service, no-attendee cremation for himself.
Weeks later, they spoke for the first time in 45 years on Skype, along with Adriana’s daughter, husband and her sister, Aura.
Aldo was shocked to see that his teenage daughters were now grandmothers.
When his ex-wife took his four children to Italy, Aldo enlisted private detectives to track them down. But in a pre-internet world, the search failed, as had Adriana’s efforts to find her father.
But amid the joyous reunion, some sad news was shared: When Aldo asked after his son Denny, he learnt he’d been killed in a car accident 34 years prior.
Aldo’s sadness was tempered by his elation at discovering grandchildren he never knew he had.
An innovative research project near Cairns is growing healthy coral on Fitzroy Island, which will be periodically replanted in damaged sections of the reef.
The three-year project is based on successful programs in Florida and the Caribbean, and has the support of local tourism operators, who’ve seen a 20-30 per cent drop in visitation since recent widespread coral bleaching.
The not-for-profit Reef Restoration Foundation hopes to engage tourists with the program by allowing them to purchase their own piece of healthy coral for replanting.
A local company is producing bee-friendly insecticide
Who knew that the catastrophic global decline in bee populations could be halted from the small town of Wee Waa in remote NSW?
That’s the hope of Innovate Ag, an Australian company that has spent 15 years developing a “game-changing” bee-friendly insecticide.
“Sero-X” repels bugs using peptides from the butterfly pea legume.
This year, the Australian Pesticides and Vetinary Medicines Authority registered it for use by cotton growers, while Innovate Ag partnered with a European firm to take the invention global.
New hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s
With many men in his family suffering from Alzheimer’s, Bill Gates has pledged $50 million to advance research into the disease.
Meanwhile, Australian researchers from the University of Queensland found ultrasound scanning along with an antibody drug reduces Alzheimer’s symptoms in mice.
Using the ultrasound opened up the “blood-brain barrier”, a membrane that usually stops drugs from accessing the brain, which is an ongoing obstacle for scientists treating brain diseases.