Dr Derek Watt


Research Manager
Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7461 (Direct)
Email: derek.watt@sugar.org.za


  • As part of the SASA leadership collective, to contribute to the fulfilment of the organisation’s mission and strategic objectives.
  • In conjunction with the SASRI Director and leadership team, to ensure that the management of the institute is aligned with stakeholder-ratified strategic objectives and good governance principles.
  • To determine the strategic direction of the SASRI research programme through internal and external consultation to promote the long-term sustainability of the sugar industry.
  • To provide pro-active leadership and effective management and administration of the SASRI research programme to ensure provision of relevant, practical and high quality agricultural solutions to stakeholders.
  • In conjunction with the research management team, to develop a programme of research and technology development that is precisely aligned with those of the SASRI operations, knowledge management and extension environments and which results in the development of cost-effective solutions that are seamlessly transferred and readily adopted by stakeholders.
  • To co-ordinate, guide and inspire the rigour and relevance of research activities and performance of SASRI Research Staff.
  • To develop and participate in initiatives that promote the well-being and professional development of SASRI Research Staff.


  • Molecular plant physiology.
  • Research management.

Specific Interests

Regulation of sucrose accumulation, particularly the role played by sugar sensing and signalling mechanisms in mediating the relationship between source and sink activities.

Key Outcomes

  • In conjunction with research collaborators and post-graduate students:
    Demonstrated that the sink strength (stalk sucrose content) is an important determinant of source activity (leaf photosynthesis), a relationship that may underpin certain agronomic phenomena (e.g. reduced spring growth).
  • Identified commonalities in the signalling and transduction pathways for aluminium-induced and oxidative stress in sugarcane roots.
  • Through gene expression profiling, found evidence that hypoxia may play a role in the regulation of stalk carbohydrate metabolism.
  • NRF-rating.

Key Publications

Van Heerden PDR, Donaldson R, Watt DA & A Singels (2010). Biomass accumulation in sugarcane – unraveling the factors underpinning reduced growth phenomena. Journal of Experimental Botany 61: 2877-2887.

McCormick AJ, Watt DA & MD Cramer (2009). Supply and demand: sink regulation of sugar accumulation in sugarcane. Journal of Experimental Botany 60: 357-364.

McCormick AJ, Cramer MD & DA Watt (2008). Culm sucrose accumulation promotes physiological decline of mature leaves in ripening sugarcane. Field Crops Research 108: 250-258.

McCormick AJ, Cramer MD & DA Watt (2008). Differential expression of genes in the leaves of sugarcane in response to sugar accumulation. Tropical Plant Biology 1: 142-148.

McCormick AJ, Cramer MD & DA Watt (2008). Regulation of photosynthesis by sugars in sugarcane leaves. Journal of Plant Physiology 165: 1817-1829.

McCormick AJ, Cramer MD & DA Watt (2008). Changes in photosynthetic rates and gene expression of leaves during a source-sink perturbation in sugarcane. Annals of Botany 101: 89-102.


  • Honorary Senior Lecturer (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College).
  • MSc (Witwatersrand), HDipEd (PG) PhD (Natal).