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Good News: Scientists turn back the clock on skin cells and plant-based foods make billions

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By Camille Bello
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Good News
Good News   -   Copyright  Euronews

Headlines can be hard going but some news is good news. This is your weekly digest of what’s going well in the world...

1. Scientists have discovered a technique to rewind the age of skin cells by 30 years

2. Plant-based foods are breaking records with billions in sales

3. The unexpected positive side effect of one social media platform

4. A new law to end oil and gas research and exploration in Quebec

5. The professor powering his Tesla with his very own portable solar panels

Watch the video above for more on each story, or read on below...

1. Scientists have discovered a technique to turn back time for skin cells by 30 years

Did you look in the mirror this morning and wish you could turn the clock back a few years?

A new technique developed by the Babraham Institute, a life sciences research institution and partner of the University of Cambridge, has brought us closer to just that. They have rewound the biological clock of skin cells by 30 years.

The rejuvenated cells showed signs of behaving more like youthful cells in experiments that simulated a skin wound. And the impact could extend beyond our vanity – the research could be used in regenerative medicine to tackle other problems of ageing including aches, pains, illness, slower mental response and a slower capacity to heal.

Professor Wolf Reik, who led the research, said the work has "very exciting implications".

He said: "We may be able to identify genes that rejuvenate without reprogramming, and specifically target those to reduce the effects of ageing. This approach holds promise for valuable discoveries that could open up an amazing therapeutic horizon.”

The cell scientists have rejuvenated is called a fibroblast. It produces collagen, which is a molecule not only found in the skin but also in our bones, tendons and ligaments, helping provide structure to tissues and heal wounds. Fibroblasts move into areas that need to be repaired.

Researchers tested the partially rejuvenated cells by creating an artificial cut in a layer of cells in a dish. They found that their younger fibroblasts moved into the gap faster than older cells. And they say it is a promising sign.

Diljeet Gill, a scientist at Cambridge University who was part of the research team, added: “Our results represent a big step forward in our understanding of cell reprogramming. We have proved that cells can be rejuvenated without losing their function and that rejuvenation looks to restore some function to old cells. The fact that we also saw a reverse of ageing indicators in genes associated with diseases is particularly promising for the future of this work."

2. Plant-based foods are breaking records with billions in sales

Sales of plant-based foods in the United States grew 6.2 per cent in 2021, bringing the total plant-based market value to an all-time high of $7.4 billion.

According to the United Nations, livestock supply chains to produce meat, eggs and milk are a huge contributor to climate change. Twenty servings of vegetables have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one serving of beef.

New figures released by the Plant-Based Foods Association, The Good Food Institute, and wellness-focused data company SPINS showed that plant-based food sales grew three times faster than total food sales, with most plant-based categories outpacing their conventional counterparts.

And all that amidst turbulent economic conditions and a pandemic that disrupted the supply chain and increased inflation.

Plant-based milk, the biggest category in the plant-based market, which currently accounts for 16 per cent of all milk sales, grew 4 per cent in 2021 and 33 per cent in the past three years—while animal-based milk sales declined 2 per cent in 2021.

Plant-based meat substitutes provided $1.4 billion in sales in 2021, growing 74 per cent in the past three years – three times as much growth as actual meat.

Julie Emmett, from the Plant-Based Foods Association, called the sustained rise in the market share of plant-based foods "remarkable" and said: "It makes it clear that this shift is here to stay." She added: "More and more consumers are turning to plant-based options that align with their values and desire to have a positive impact on personal and planetary health."

Sixty-two per cent of US households – that’s 79 million – are now buying plant-based products. And the experts behind the figures say the trend is only expected to continue as Millennials and Gen Z consumers now make up 47 per cent of the population, and there is a demonstrably high demand for plant-based foods from both generations.

And the pattern extends beyond the US: last year an EU-funded project reported a 49 per cent growth in Europeans’ consumption of plant-based foods, in a period of just two years.

3. The unexpected positive side effect of one social media platform

We’ve all seen the headlines lamenting the many ways social media has apparently ruined a generation… they don’t play outside, they don't speak to each other in real life, and they’ve got the concentration span of a goldfish. But there is a twist in that tale.

Social media is making teenagers read more.

The UK's Publishers Association says TikTok powered book sales to record levels in 2021 – thanks to a trend by the name of BookTok.

BookTok is a TikTok community that sees users make videos reviewing and discussing books they’ve read.

The Publishers Association said four of the top five bestsellers for young adults in 2021 were driven by the BookTok trend.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive at the Publishers Association, told the BBC: "[We've had] lots of individual booksellers talking about the fact that they're having lots of young people coming into their book stores, talking about books that they have heard about on TikTok and asking for them.”

And it’s not just about the thrill of the new – another criticism often levelled at social media. The association says that the pandemic saw people seeking out older books as well as recent bestsellers.

It seems sometimes the poison really is the cure.

4. A new law to end oil and gas research and exploration in Quebec

Quebec has adopted a law to end oil and gas research and exploration, becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to do so.

The government's new bill puts an end to all hydrocarbon exploration and development activities in Quebec. It comes after decades of campaigning by environmental organisations and citizen groups.

Last year, Quebec joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, a group of countries, provinces and states committed to ending new fossil fuel exploration. It is the first member of the alliance to pass this type of legislation.

Canada is among the top five oil producers in the world, so a decision like this from one of its states sends a powerful signal.

5. A professor is powering his Tesla with his very own portable solar panels

In Australia, Paul Dastoor, a professor of physics at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales has invented a way to solar-power his own electric car.

“We're taking a vehicle to the remotest parts of Australia and charging it with a lightweight technology that can generate electricity from sunlight,” he says.

To test his theory, Prof Dastoor will use 18 solar panels he has designed himself to power a 15,000km journey around Australia in a Tesla.

He told Euronews: “It strikes me that this is actually an ideal test-bed to give us information about how we would go about using and powering technology in other remote locations – for example, in space."

His printed panels are very lightweight compared with the usual bulky solar cells, allowing his energy system to be rolled up and stored in the back of the car.

His panels were printed on commercial printers originally used for manufacturing wine labels, at just €7 per square metre.

Dastoor hopes the Australian-made product will inspire locals to think again about the potential of solar energy, in a country much criticised for being overly dependent on fossil fuels.

Find out more about Prof Dastoor's story and what Tesla CEO Elon Musk has to say about it here.

And if you're still hungry for more positive news, there's more below...

Good News from the week of April 22: The solar system's most powerful phone charger and planet Earth's biggest animal crossing

Good News from the week of April 18: Mysterious return of Darwin's notebooks and a new record for women's football

Journalist • Camille Bello

Video editor • Mert Can Yilmaz