SEATTLE — An agricultural biotechnology company with Washington State University roots is trying to help Florida citrus growers recover from natural disasters and citrus greening disease.
Phytelligence, based in Seattle and founded in 2012 by WSU genomist Amit Dhingra, has signed a citrus rootstock licensing agreement with Florida Foundation Seed Producers. The license, renewable every five years, gives Phytelligence customers the opportunity to access true-to-type, virus- and disease-free rootstock that’s also resistant to citrus greening disease. Beyond Florida, the nationwide citrus rights licensing is expected to help growers in California and Texas.
“We are now accepting orders across the board. There are millions of citrus trees that need to be replaced due to recent natural disasters and citrus greening disease,” said Tim O’Brien, Phytelligence chief revenue officer.
Dhingra is associate professor of Horticulture Genomics and Biotechnology Research at WSU.
Phytelligence uses micropropagation protocols, techniques and software Dhingra developed to produce rootstocks, fruit trees and grapes faster and cheaper than traditional nursery methods and ensures their correct identity through high-resolution genetic fingerprinting.
The DNA-based process allows production at a much faster pace than otherwise possible while genetically confirming true-to-type plants that are disease- and virus-free, O’Brien said. The first rootstocks will be available for customers in 2019 and finished trees will be available in 2020, he said.
“It is absolutely critical to plant trees with rootstocks that are tolerant or even resistant to citrus greening disease and the only way to be 100 percent sure the rootstocks planted are true-to-type is to use a DNA-based certification process,” said Fred Gmitter, a University of Florida citrus breeder.
Phytelligence paid a licensing fee to Florida Foundation Seed Producers and is procuring a USDA-released citrus greening-tolerant rootstock license that is open release and not subject to any royalty structure, O’Brien said.
Greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing or HLB, is a bacterial disease that ruins fruit and kills trees. It has become a major problem in Florida and other citrus states in the last 10 to 15 years.
New rootstocks licensed to Phytelligence have been developed by the University of Florida and selected for their citrus greening resistance under severe disease pressure in field trials. The agreement gives Phytelligence rights to propagate rootstocks University of Florida Release (UFR) 1 through 6 and 15 through 17.
Phytelligence will establish Florida facilities to begin propagation. Citrus trees distributed in Florida have to be propagated in Florida, O’Brien said.
Phytelligence has 75 employees and eight acres of space for greenhouses in Seattle and facilities in Pullman, Wash., and Portland.