Bowls of raw sugar and white sugar cubes framed by sugarcane

Sugar is a growing source of renewable energy.

Sugar research at CSIRO Plant Industry

CSIRO helps produce better sugarcane varieties to make sugarcane based industries more profitable and sustainable.

  • 27 October 2008 | Updated 23 April 2014

Sugarcane produces most of the world's sugar and is being increasingly used for renewable energy supply through production of ethanol and electricity.

Our efforts are mainly focused on improving sugar yields to help support Australia's A$1.5 billion sugar industry

Our sugarcane research in close collaboration with Sugar Research Australia Ltd (SRA) and the Australian sugar industry.

Wild sugarcane

Existing commercial sugarcane varieties trace back to a small number of original wild ancestors.

There are, however, many other types of sugarcane or closely related species with useful traits and genes that haven't been incorporated into breeding programs yet.

These genes could provide characteristics beneficial to cultivated sugarcane.

CSIRO is investigating sugarcane types in collections held by SRA and in China to identify favourable traits. We will then try and incorporate these favourable traits into commercial sugarcane varieties without importing unfavourable traits.

CSIRO is doing this by developing molecular markers that flag useful and detrimental genes. Scientists have identified a number of markers for high sugar content and disease resistance and are now testing their reliability.

DNA markers

We have identified a range of DNA markers which are associated with important traits in sugarcane, including sugar content, cane yield, and smut resistance.

Using cultivated and wild varieties, CSIRO hopes to develop sugarcane that is better at storing sucrose.

We are working toward implementing cost effective marker assisted selection into existing breeding programs.

We are also developing the world's most comprehensive linkage map of the complex sugarcane genome, to underpin the ongoing discovery of useful markers and important genes in the future. CSIRO is part of an international consortium to sequence the entire genome of sugar.

More sugar

Sucrose, better known as sugar, is produced in the sugarcane's leaves and transported to storage tissue in the stalk. Sugar is extracted from the stalk at the sugar mill.

CSIRO is investigating the transport steps involved in moving sucrose from the leaves to storage cells. We are also investigating the unique features of sugarcane's storage tissue which allow high concentrations of sucrose to be stored.

Using cultivated and wild varieties, CSIRO hopes to develop sugarcane that is better at storing sucrose. We then aim to breed new varieties of sugarcane with more sucrose which could result in better profits for cane growers.

Related information sheets

Related scientific papers

Read more about CSIRO's work in Food and Agriculture.