Enhance Industry Productivity

This programme conducts research and implements strategies for the continual release of high yielding, adaptable, pest and disease resistant varieties that add value and enhance industry productivity. Supporting the programme are seven research stations strategically sited throughout the SA sugar belt, which are operated by highly skilled technical and farm support staff.

Introgression Breeding

Introgression Breeding seeks to expand the genetic base of parental germplasm used in Commercial Breeding by performing successive crosses between elite commercial varieties and either plant species closely related to sugarcane or ancestral species that gave rise to modern commercial hybrid varieties. Of particular relevance is that Introgression Breeding provides access to genes from other species that have the potential to contribute improved vigour, resilience and pest and disease resistance to commercial varieties bred through Commercial Breeding.

Research in this area also focuses on the development of methods and technologies to enable the crossing of sugarcane varieties with closely related and progenitor cane species, which includes synchronisation of flowering, pollen storage and genetic diversity analysis.

Commercial Breeding

Commercial Breeding lies at the core of the Variety Improvement Programme. This major component of SASRI activities consists of five primary areas of research and operations, namely; crossing, selection, genotype testing, bulking and variety release.

Together, this highly co-ordinated series of activities results in the release to the industry of varieties with high sugar yield (both sucrose and cane yield), pest and disease resistance, adaptability, ratooning ability and agronomic and milling characteristics that are desirable to both millers and growers.


This research area focuses on unravelling the extremely complex sugarcane genome with a view to the development of genetic markers linked to important sugarcane traits, for example pest and disease resistance. Knowledge and resources generated in this area feed into breeding research.

Variety Characterisation

Articulating strongly with Commercial Breeding, Variety Characterisation research and development aims to provide comprehensive information on the performance of new varieties under different management practices and agro-climatic conditions upon, or soon after, their release to the industry.

As for Commercial Breeding, Variety Characterisation is complemented by a series of research projects that are instituted to address specific issues, for example variety ratoon longevity and the performance of varieties derived from the NovaCane® Technology.

Trait Development

Research and development underlying Trait Development are strongly focused on the development of innovations of strategic importance to the future delivery and sustainable cultivation of varieties with novel traits (characteristics) within the industry.

Traits currently under development include enhanced nitrogen-use efficiency and herbicide and drought tolerance. Research in this area also includes the development of technologies and resources required for genetic engineering, mutagenic breeding and the preservation of valuable germplasm, as well as the demonstration of proof-of-concept regarding the performance of the novel lines produced.

Current Projects

Drought tolerance induced in sugarcane by genetic modification

Improved nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) via GM technology

Investigating variety ratooning dynamics.

Genetic variation and phylogeny of Saccharum spontaneum: A resource for developing cold and drought tolerant sugarcane cultivars for biofuel and energy production

Protocol optimisation for genetic modification of sugarcane

Mutation breeding for eldana resistance

Progressing GM commercialisation of Bt sugarcane (funded by DST Biosafety South Africa)

Setting-up of a generic bioinformatics pipeline to analyse genomics and transcriptomic data

Transcriptomics of eldana-inoculated sugarcane plants

Breeding and variety evaluation

Field analysis and maintenance of transgenic sugarcane lines with altered sucrose content and biopolymer composition

Introgression breeding

Commercial development of Bt GM sugarcane

Synteny analysis and genome mapping in sugarcane by identifying genes present on trait-associated haplotypes through exploitation of the sorghum genome sequence.

Sugarcane sucrose enhancement by genetic modification (SU Contract: Prof. Jens Kossmann) (partly funded by dti THRIP)

Evaluation of an in vitro mitigation treatments to reduce NovaCane® phenotype anomalies in the field

Production and characterization of stress resistant sugarcane mutants

Development of an integrated field programme for deploying imazapyr-tolerant sugarcane

Validation of tissue specificity of a selection of SASRI promoters

Identification, development and screening of validated transcript-based stress response markers against SASRI germplasm

Biotechnological investigations to improve sugarcane drought stress tolerance (SU Contract: Dr Christell van der Vyver)

Research Stations

Research Station Farms

SASRI Herbarium

The SASRI Herbarium is a specialist collection of over 75 dried specimens representing genera closely related to sugarcane with a living collection of 2 659 sugarcane cultivars and sugarcane relatives, focusing on the Saccharinae. An extended living collection of over 300 species native to or naturalised in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is also available on the campus. We are estimating around 100 species of grasses on the site, which will be surveyed during flowering season.


Programme Manager: Variety Improvement

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