Intern Analyzes Cotton Genome

Jaime Swartz is shown at the desk where she worked on
the computational analysis of the cotton genome.

Cotton is often called the “fabric of our lives.” The plant that produces this wonderful textile can also be used for many other purposes, such as for cottonseed oil, other household items and… a good comparison model for genomes?

Jaime Swartz, a junior double majoring in applied math and industrial engineering at Northwestern University, spent her summer conducting research at Iowa State University. Swartz, a native of West Des Moines, was a participant in the eight- week long George Washington Carver Internship Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her research deals with the computational analysis of the cotton genome.

Swartz worked with Jonathan Wendel, professor and chair in ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and Corrinne Grover, a post-doctoral research associate in Wendel’s lab.

“My research involves configuring a collection of computer programs that analyze DNA sequences, and putting all of their output into one larger program called Apollo. This program allows me to annotate parts of the cotton genome,” Swartz said. “I figure out which transposable elements, genes and other components make up the genome using a visual representation that Apollo creates.”

By analyzing specific regions of the cotton genome and comparing those regions across different species, they can find the ways that the genome has evolved. This project specifically focuses on the changes in the size of the cotton genome.

“This research is important because it will provide insight into the evolution of genomes in all living organisms, including humans. In this case, cotton provides us with a model that is easier to analyze because its genome is relatively simple,” Swartz said.

“The most interesting part of my research is looking at how the technology in the biology field is integrated into the research process. The experimental lab abilities in the biology world are much farther ahead than the technology needed to analyze the results,” Swartz said. “The Wendel lab in is doing some of the most advanced cotton research in the country.”

Swartz has this to say about her experience as a Carver intern: “I really like how independent we are. We do different research, yet we get to interact with each other in social settings. Also, it’s great to meet people of different cultures and backgrounds. I would’ve never met these people if it weren’t for this program.”

“It’s been a really good opportunity to get high-level exposure into a different field. I’m not a biology person but this experience has made me interested in the role technology plays in biology and how I was able to contribute my technical skills to that side of biology research,” Swartz said.

The George Washington Carver Internship Program is for undergraduate and high school students who will enhance diversity at Iowa State University and are interested in research in agriculture-related fields. Interns conduct research and participate in various events and seminars. The program, funded by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and other sources, has been successful in bringing in more than 300 students to Iowa State over the past 16 years. For more information, visit: