A new company, Phytelligence, is poised to break the apple, cherry, and pear rootstock bottleneck. Many growers know and have experienced the long wait to get the new Geneva rootstocks from Cornell University in their hands, as well as Gisela cherry rootstocks, B.9, and true-to-type Old Home x Farmingdale pear stocks. The young company, formed in 2012, has developed advanced micropropagation techniques to rapidly ramp up production of rootstocks to make them available to nurseries and growers directly.
Phytelligence is a spin-off company from Washington State University (WSU), first located in a WSU research park in Pullman, WA, home to WSU. World headquarters are now located in Seattle, WA. Formed, by Dr.Aingra Dhingra and some of his former students, the company is rapidly moving forward to supply rootstocks for 2016 and beyond.
In the past, it has taken up to eight years, with traditional propagation techniques to generate enough apple rootstocks to plant stool beds that grow rootstocks for the nurseries to propagate finished trees. Dhingra and his company, Phytelligence, have been able to significantly speed up this process.
Another key issue for growers and nurseries alike has been getting rootstocks that are true to type. Phytelligence indicates their plants are 100% certified “genetically true-to-type.” They test and retest their plant materials throughout the micropropagation process.
In fact, the company offers extensive genetic analysis services to identify unfamiliar trees in orchards or enable growers to apply the genetic analysis to file patents on new varieties.
The commercial fruit industry has been strong supporters of Phytelligence. The company has raised funds from individual fruit growers, nurseries, packing houses, and others to get started. Phytelligence still has the full support of WSU, given that it is the commercial outlet for technologies developed in Dhingra’s lab. He continues to serve on the WSU faculty.
Seeing The Process Up Close
Over the past two months I have gotten to know Dr. Dhingra, or as he really goes by to everyone — Amit! He is full of energy and has a passion for his work, helping growers solve problems. In visiting Amit’s university lab in December, I met nine of his current graduate students who enthusiastically shared their work.
Ongoing projects ranging from pear rootstock breeding, hard cider apple breeding, fruit ripening compounds, tissue culture enhancements, and advances in genomic testing were all displayed. As Amit and I have communicated, we realized we knew many of the same horticulturists all over the U.S. It’s a small world in pomology.
A unique quality of Amit is his passion for working directly with farmers. He has the true heart of an Extension worker. He began his work at WSU by visiting with farmers to identify their needs. His goal was to help solve their problems.
“Working directly with the farmers to learn about their problems and solving them has been the best part of my job,” he said.
As he began to solve issues with fruit production Amit indicated he was well supported by industry — not only farmers, but packing houses and nurseries.
Amit has a strong passion for research and I could see his strong commitment to his students. He indicated to me “I am here to serve.”
He began his university career at Rutgers University as a pre-doctoral student and then a post-doctoral scientist at the Waksman Institute. He then spent two years at the University of Florida as postdoc and then moved on to WSU as a faculty member in horticulture to set up a genomics and biotechnology program.
Besides micropropagation of tree fruit rootstocks and genetic analysis, Phytelligence is working on many other projects including winegrapes, raspberry, blueberry, peach, almonds, and hops propagation, all through advanced micropropagation.
Future Looks Bright
Phytelligence has a great future as they have the potential to meet many of the needs of commercial tree fruit growers. As they ramp up their production of apple, cherry, peach, and pear rootstocks that are true to name, and add other services to their portfolio, growers and nurseries will be excited to work with them.
Currently, greenhouses, tissue culture facilities, shipping and processing infrastructure are all in place in Seattle to service existing orders for rootstocks for 2016 and meet significant quantities of rootstock needs for 2017 and beyond.