Using interspecific crosses involving Oryza glaberrima Steud. as donor and O. sativa L. as recurrent parents, rice breeders at the Africa Rice Center developed several ‘New Rice for Africa (NERICA)’ improved varieties. A smaller number of interspecific and intraspecific varieties have also been released as ‘Advanced Rice for Africa (ARICA)’. The objective of the present study was to investigate the genetic variation, relatedness, and population structure of 330 widely used rice genotypes in Africa using DArTseq-based single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). A sample of 11 ARICAs, 85 NERICAs, 62 O. sativa spp. japonica, and 172 O. sativa spp. indica genotypes were genotyped with 27,560 SNPs using diversity array technology (DArT)-based sequencing (DArTseq) platform. Nearly 66% of the SNPs were polymorphic, of which 15,020 SNPs were mapped to the 12 rice chromosomes. Genetic distance between pairs of genotypes that belong to indica, japonica, ARICA, and NERICA varied from 0.016 to 0.623, from 0.020 to 0.692, from 0.075 to 0.763, and from 0.014 to 0.644, respectively. The proportion of pairs of genotypes with genetic distance > 0.400 was the largest within NERICAs (35.1% of the pairs) followed by ARICAs (18.2%), japonica (17.4%), and indica (5.6%). We found one pair of japonica, 11 pairs of indica, and 35 pairs of NERICA genotypes differing by <2% of the total scored alleles, which was due to 26 pairs of genotypes with identical pedigrees. Cluster analysis, principal component analysis, and the model-based population structure analysis all revealed two distinct groups corresponding to the lowland (primarily indica and lowland NERICAs) and upland (japonica and upland NERICAs) growing ecologies. Most of the interspecific lowland NERICAs formed a sub-group, likely caused by differences in the O. glaberrima genome as compared with the indica genotypes. Analysis of molecular variance revealed very great genetic differentiation (FST = 0.688) between the lowland and upland ecologies, and 31.2% of variation attributable to differences within cluster groups. About 8% (1,197 of 15,020) of the 15,020 SNPs were significantly (P < 0.05) different between the lowland and upland ecologies and formed contrasting haplotypes that could clearly discriminate lowland from upland genotypes. This is the first study using high density markers that characterized NERICA and ARICA varieties in comparison with indica and japonica varieties widely used in Africa, which could aid rice breeders on parent selection for developing new improved rice germplasm.
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