Four major nurseries that form the North American group of the International New Varieties Network (INN) have made a significant investment in a new biotechnology company called Phytelligence.
Phytelligence, which is based in Pullman, Washington, was founded in 2011 by Washington State University genomicist Dr. Amit Dhingra with a number of his graduate students who had developed micropropagation protocols and techniques for identifying plants through genetic analysis. The company can quickly and accurately produce plants through tissue culture and guarantee their identity.
Over the past year, serial entrepreneur Chris Leyerle, who is Phytelligence’s chief executive officer, has been seeking seed funding to hire staff and equip the lab. The four INN nurseries who have invested in the company are: C&O Nursery, Wenatchee, Washington; Van Well Nursery, East Wenatchee; Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata, Washington; and ProTree Nursery in Brentwood, California.
Jack Snyder, president of C&O Nursery, has joined Dinghra and Leyerle on the three-person board of directors.
Snyder said the INN members saw value in being able to use genetic analysis to identify plants. First, it could help the nurseries protect their new and patented varieties. Second, it can ensure that nurseries deliver exactly what the growers ordered. Snyder said several cases of mistaken identity involving Geneva rootstocks have underlined the importance of DNA testing before mass production begins. He foresees that the nurseries will have genetic analysis done of mother trees and the second-generation scion blocks.
The nurseries also are interested in having a tissue culture lab at their disposal to get new varieties out to growers more quickly. Not only is tissue culture faster than traditional propagation in the field, but it also requires fewer resources, such as land and employees, Snyder said.
Read more in the Good Fruit Grower‘s annual cherry issue which comes out May 15.