Ceres accelerates sugarcane trait development

By Ceres Inc. | April 03, 2015

Ceres Inc., an agricultural biotechnology company, recently announced that its biotech sugarcane traits have been advanced to the next stage of testing ahead of schedule due to positive data from initial field evaluations under tropical conditions in Latin America. Leading product candidates are currently being multiplied for wider-scale field evaluations which are scheduled to begin in May and June 2015.

Ceres reported that its yield traits accelerated growth and increased biomass in elite tropical sugarcane varieties. In addition, plants with one of the company’s drought tolerance traits maintained biomass yields under low water conditions, and in certain cases, maintained yields with as little as half the water normally required during production. Field evaluations represent a critical stage in the development of biotech crop traits, as they provide greater insight into how traits may perform in an agricultural setting. 

Roger Pennell, vice president of trait development for Ceres, said that sugarcane industry researchers who completed the study on behalf of Ceres accelerated their first stage of field trialing ahead of the completion of the first growing cycle in order to expand the scale of the evaluations. “The positive results are especially exciting because the tests were completed in elite commercial varieties that are already known for their high yields and performance,” he said.

Pennell explained that faster growth, higher yield and greater resilience to drought and other stress conditions would not only increase output, but also lower production costs for the industry. “This could revolutionize the industry,” Pennell said, noting that such traits could potentially increase the number of harvests during the lifetime of a sugarcane stand, extend the growing season and expand the area where economically attractive yields can be achieved. “We look forward to working with our collaborator in Latin America to generate the data that will be needed to confirm these positive initial results,” he said.

Favorable results from a research setting are not a guarantee of future commercial performance, and further evaluations will be necessary to confirm these results. The next stage of research field trials, which will provide more definitive results, is expected to be completed by June 2016. At the current pace, commercial sugarcane cultivars with Ceres’ traits could be ready for commercial scale-up as early as 2018.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 65 million acres (26 million hectares) of sugarcane were harvested worldwide in 2013, including 32 million acres (13 million hectares) in Latin America.