The knight of sugar industry: T. S. Venkatraman (1884-1963)

Ramesh Maheshwari, Anantanarayanan Raman

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Tiruvadi Sambasiva Venkatraman (TSV) was a plant breeder. In response to a call from Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya, he made it his mission to develop high-yielding varieties of sugarcane for manufacturing sugar and making it available as a sweetening agent and an energy source for the malnourished children of India. Using Saccharum officinarum, then under cultivation in India, as the female parent, he artificially fertilized it with pollen from S. barberi, which grew wild in Coimbatore. After 4-5 recurrent backcrossings of S. officinarum × wild Sorghum spontaneum with S. officinarum as the female parent, TSV selected the 'rare' interspecies hybrid cane varieties that resembled sugarcane and had approximately 2.5 cm thick juicy stems containing 16-18% sucrose-nearly 35 times more than what occurred in parent stocks. The hybrid canes matured quickly, were resistant to water logging, drought, and to the red-rot disease caused by Glomerella tucumanensis (Sordariomycetes: Glomerellaceae), and to the sereh-virus disease. Most importantly, they were amenable for propagation using stem cuttings. In recognition of the development of highyielding sugarcane varieties, TSV was conferred the titles Rao Bahadur, Rao Sahib, and Sir by the British Government, and Padma Bhushan by the Republic of India. In the next few decades, consequent to TSV's work, India turned into the second largest sugar producer in the world, after Brazil. The hybrid sugarcane varieties developed are the foundational stocks for new sugarcane × bamboo hybrids, and for possible resistance to Puccinia megalocephala (Pucciniomycetes: Pucciniaceae) and Ustilago scitaminea (Ustilaginomycetes: Ustilaginaceae) using molecular techniques.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146-1149
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


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