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Cutting edge science is just across the bay

June 17, 2013

Sheep are among the rare livestock breeds that roam on the 45-acre land in Newport. This one was just recently shorn, a demonstration for which was given to the public on Visitor’s Day this past Saturday. (Photo by Shaun Kirby)

NEWPORT — Their doors are closed to the public 364 days of the year, but on Saturday, the SVF Foundation (SVF) invited visitors from across the state to get a peek at the historical farmstead’s multi-functional operation, which includes a fully operating cryo-preservation lab.

The farm itself sits beside Ocean Drive on 45 acres of land and is home to what local Newport residents call, ‘Swiss Village,’ a collection of old-world styled stone buildings which house SVF’s cryo-laboratory and other farm-related activities, such as a hen house and cattle barn.
In 1998, Philadelphia philanthropist Dorrance ‘Dodo’ Hill Hamilton purchased the land with the desire to do something for the environment and, as the grandchild of John T. Dorrance, inventor of Campbell Soup and the canned soup process, she figured animal preservation was the best way to go.
“Mrs. Hamilton said to me, ‘why don’t you come join me and do something in conservation,’” said Peter Borden, executive director at SVF Foundation. “Two months later, I met with the Tufts University team and they said that if you want to do something for the future, do cryopreservation.”
Thus, on an idyllic farmstead in Newport, cutting edge science is happening, and intrigued outsiders have always grappled to catch a look. In cooperation with Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, SVF preserves the embryos of rare livestock breeds in order to protect the future food stocks. According to SVF, certain livestock breeds, from cattle to chickens, which are bred en masse for our daily consumption, may become susceptible to diseases which devastate food supplies.
SVF, however, doesn’t want to be in that position. Rare livestock, many of which populate the farm today, hold unique genetic resistances to diseases that might affect more common breeds, as well as provide the consumer with a more natural, flavorful taste. By preserving more than 200 embryos of rare livestock, and 3,000 straws of semen per breed, the foundation hopes to both protect the future of livestock consumption as well as educate the public about what they eat.
“We are trying to get people back to the farmer,” said Sarah Bowley of SVF Foundation. “[We want] to educate people about the different breeds here. In order to save them, we must eat them to give the farmer’s a reason to breed them. People don’t often understand that.”
This past Saturday, visitors to the ‘Swiss Village’ farmstead witnessed first hand the cryo-preservation methods which SVF employs, led by Tufts University Assistant Professor Kevin Lindell, who demonstrated the complex process which goes into freezing and preserving the livestock embryos.
Children and adults alike stood in awe as the vapors of liquid nitrogen wafted out of the embryonic containers. Lindell showed visitors the quality control process, noting even a livestock cell from 1986 as the oldest preserved embryo he has seen.
“We heard about the foundation and just wanted to check out the farm,” said Chris Rennick of Warwick. “It’s pretty cool, and getting to look inside at the scientific process is amazing.”
“You never would have thought that this is happening in Newport,” he added.
One visitor asks, how long can an embryo be preserved?
“We are thinking 200, maybe 500 years without a doubt,” responded Lindell.
Livestock are donated to the foundation from breeders throughout the world for preservation, first gathering all the information they can about the breed and then keeping the animals in 30 days of quarantine in order to monitor them during the embryo collection process. Blood and other genetic material are also preserved, and the security at the farm during the year is high so that no outside bacterial influences will disrupt the cryo-preservation process.
Borden, who greeted visitors on Saturday with a series of questions regarding their knowledge of livestock and public food consumption, had to first convince unknowing members of the public that the SVF was not some crazy, Frankenstein-like operation nestled among the rich estates of Newport, but that hard and valuable science was being conducted.
“It used to be that people thought we were cloning animals,” said Borden. “We are collecting genetic material, so there is no reason to clone.”
If the hundreds of visitors to ‘Swiss Village’ were any indication, SVF’s scientific endeavors, as well as the stunning beauty of the farm itself, have become well understood among the public. And for one day every year, the curtain is raised for outside eyes to learn about SVF’s fantastic operations.
For more information, visit www.svffoundation.org.

 

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