Division of Crop Improvement

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Goal : Increase productivity and profitability of the sugar industry through incorporation of better sugarcane varieties for commercial cultivation.




Priority Areas

  • Collection, conservation, evaluation and utilization of Saccharum germplasm.
  • Hybridisation of sugarcane  to develop varieties with high yields, resistance to white leaf disease (WLD)/grassy shoot disease (GSD), smut and leaf scald, early, mid and late maturity,  good ratooning ability and tolerance to drought  for rain-fed and irrigated cultivation in different sugarcane-growing areas in Sri Lanka and to generate high-sucrose genetic stocks to be used as parental clones.
  • Selection of sugarcane clones with commercial attributes, determining proven parents and proven crossing combinations, selecting true hybrids of inter-specific, inter-generic and backcrosses in the nobilisation of wild species and to generate high-sucrose parental stocks through recurrent selection.
  • Tissue culture of sugarcane to develop new sub-clones resistant to WLD/GSD and smut from disease susceptible high-yielding varieties, produce disease-free planting materials from newly-released varieties for rapid multiplication by in-vitro culture and lateral shoot multiplication under poly tunnel conditions, and to  produce in-vitro-cultured materials for varietal exportation and expedite sugarcane quarantine process by meri-cloning of imported varieties.
  • Studying molecular biology of sugarcane varieties  to identify genetic relatedness and distinctness among commercial and locally-collected sugarcane varieties (DUS ((Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability)  testing),  confirm the identity of varieties through parental identification, avoid mixing of varieties and identify true hybrids,  identify genetic relatedness among parental and commercialized hybrid sugarcane varieties and  the existing markers for high-yielding varieties with disease resistance, and to adopt marker-assisted selection in the existing breeding program.

Significant Outputs

  • Release of the following superior sugarcane varieties
SLI 121 SL 83 06 SL 86 13 SL 88 116 SLT 88 238
SL 89 1673 SL 92 4918 SL 92 4997 SL 92 5588  
  • Completion of evaluations of the following near-commercial varieties in the pipeline for release
SL 95 4432 SL 95 4443 SL 96 128 SL 96 328 SL 96 771
  • Enrichment of Saccharum genetic resource

The germplasm collection of 150 accessions received from Sri Lanka Sugar Corporation in 1984 has been enriched with 1058 new accessions.

  • Internationally-recognized sugarcane crop improvement program
    The sugarcane crop improvement programme of the Institute received international recognition in 2003.
  • Development of directional breeding system
    Proven parent and proven crosses systems have been developed through quantitative genetic experiments to generate progenies for specific breeding objectives.
  • Development of efficient progeny selection methods
    Rank-based progeny selection indices for different selection stages were developed using multiple trait selection criteria for efficient screening of clones.
  • Identification of sugarcane White Leaf Disease (WLD) resistant gene pool
    Parental stock with 32 accessions was identified for development of improved varieties with sugarcane WLD resistance.
  • Devising a high-quality planting material production nursery system with higher seed multiplication rate
    This new system involves adoption of sugarcane meristem culture, Lateral Shoot Multiplication (LSM) and spaced planting of seed setts.


  • Provision of breeder’s seeds of recommended varieties to the industry
  • Provision of disease-free in-vitro-cultured planting materials to the industry
  • Undertaking training activities in sugarcane breeding, tissue culture, biotechnology and high-quality planting material production
  • Conducting awareness programs for the public and school children