Marijuana Business Magazine March 2019

Marijuana Business Magazine | March 2019 92 SCALING NEW HEIGHTS While the payoffs from tissue culture are substantial, setting up such an operation can be expensive, time consuming and require expertise. Smaller growers wanting to use tissue culture for genetic preservation—or entrepreneurs seeking to use it for a proof of concept—can expect to spend as much as a few hundred thousand dollars to get started. Opening a small tissue-culture nursery costs at least $2 million to $3 million and takes a year or more to launch, estimated Jonathan Vaught, whose Colorado-based nursery Front Range Biosciences has about 40 employees. “You need to seriously think about how you’re going to use tissue culture in your operation, because even something small scale is going to require major investment,”Vaught said. A tissue-culture operation generally requires three spaces: a prep room, a transfer room and a growth room. Nurseries or growers seeking to micropropagate will require bigger spaces—perhaps a few thousand square feet—while smaller businesses with smaller goals can use small rooms (even closets!) if they are adequately sanitized and ventilated. PREPPING THE PREP ROOM The prep room is where cuttings, media and glassware are sterilized and prepared for use. The prep room also has the most expensive equipment, such as the autoclave, which is used for sterilizing instruments, including the glassware and media that will hold tissue cultures. New autoclaves can cost up to $100,000, experts said, but good, used autoclaves can be purchased from equipment resellers for $10,000. The size of your autoclave depends on the rate at which you want to produce clones, said Hope Jones, CEO of Emergent Cannabis Science.“If you’re doing a lot of media and you plan on producing 1,000 clones per week, that’s a lot of throughput through that instrument.” Other standard laboratory equipment needed in the prep room includes scales, balances, chemicals, reagents, pH meters, lab furniture and basic glassware and plasticware such as beakers, cylinders, flasks and media bottles. TRANSFER ROOM BASICS The transfer room is typically the smallest of the three rooms because it needs to be just big enough to accommodate a laminar flow hood, minor furniture and equipment—such as a utility cart for instruments like forceps and blades—as well as racks to hold vessels. The flow hood, where workers sit and work on transferring plant material into glassware with media, is the second-most-important piece of equipment. The transfer room also should have good ventilation and lighting, because this is where the cuttings are placed into glassware containing the media that hold the plant material. So, workers need to see what they’re doing, and pharmaceutical-grade cleanliness is paramount to avoid contamination. New flow hoods run $8,000-$15,000, but quality, used flow hoods can be bought for $3,000, Jones said. GROWTH ROOM KEY The growth room is the most important room. “The growth room is where everything is happening. That’s where plantlets are all in their vessels—baby food vessels, magenta vessels, whatever—and they’re all in their vessels on their racks—growing, multiplying, rooting,” Jones said. “So, just like your grow room, you want to have that fine-tuned, because if you don’t have control over your environment, bad things can happen, like pathogens developing.” The growth room also requires the ability to control the environment—such as temperature, humidity and lighting—because the photo period and light intensity are critical. Jones recommends temperatures be set between 76 and 78 degrees. If it gets too warm, Jones warned, plant tissue can die. Cleanliness needs to be paramount in all three rooms, but especially the transfer and growth rooms, experts said. “The two rooms no one should go into except for staff are the transfer room and culture room. Those two rooms should have little to no foot traffic,” Jones said. She also recommended operators use so-called HEPA filters and perform in-house swab testing to try to identify potential hot spots—microorganism outbreaks, for example—before they cause problems. Guelich added that employees in such facilities should wear shoe covering, clean room suits and hairnets. Vaught also recommends that tissue-culture nurseries have a greenhouse to store young plants once they are ready to exit the growth room. – Omar Sacirbey Setting Up Shop