Ag biotech company expands to Seattle, Portland

By March 15, 2016News, Press

By: Dan Wheat – Capital Press

Phytelligence, an agricultural biotechnology company with Washington State University roots, has established its headquarters in Seattle and facilities in Seattle and Portland for advanced propagation of food crops.

The company was founded in 2012 by Amit Dhingra, associate professor of horticultural genomics and biotechnology at WSU. He developed micropropagation protocols, techniques and software to produce rootstocks, fruit trees and grapevines faster and cheaper than traditional nursery methods and ensure their correct identity through high-resolution genetic fingerprinting.

Disease screening, plant repository services, securing of intellectual property and the ability to co-develop new varieties of food crops also is provided.

The company has biological and compound solutions, including one that keeps pears from aging after they are sliced and packaged.

In 2012 and 2013, mix-ups in materials for propagation of new disease-resistant apple rootstock at Washington tree fruit nurseries led to the loss of millions of dollars, Dhingra has said. Phytelligence can prevent that by testing the DNA of each plant, he said.

The goal is not to replace Northwest fruit tree nurseries but help them become more efficient, cost effective and globally competitive, said Ashley Ennis, Phytelligence director of marketing.

C&O Nursery, Wenatchee; Van Well Nursery, East Wenatchee; Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata; TRECO, Woodburn, Ore.; and ProTree Nursery, Brentwood, Calif., all have invested in Phytelligence. They remain supportive, Ennis said.

Dhingra is the company’s controlling partner, handles scientific developments and operates its Pullman laboratory, she said.

The company has expanded into production of pear and cherry trees, peaches, almonds, hops and blueberry, raspberry and strawberry plants, she said.

Seattle facilities provide 118,000 square feet of greenhouse and 85,000 square feet of outdoor storage to meet customer demand for 3 million to 6 million plants in each of the next two years.

More than 15,000 plantlets already arrive weekly from the company’s tissue culture laboratory in Pullman. The Seattle facility has a state-of-the-art, high humidity growth and acclimation building to transition plants from the tissue culture gel composition to the sterile greenhouse potting environment.

In Portland, Phytelligence recently moved into the 12,000-square-foot PacTrust facility adjacent to the Oregon Business Park. It includes former facilities of Dow AgroSciences and will retain most of that company’s researchers for studying production and use of plants for food, fuel, fiber and land reclamation. There is a tissue culture lab and plans to eventually grow up to 29 million plants annually.

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