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Information and Living Systems Add Up to Scientific Discoveries for New Professor

March 24, 2008

Information and Living Systems Add Up to Scientific Discoveries for New Professor

Information flows through living systems all the time, on every level. Humans process conversations and written words. Information is expressed genetically in populations as they change and evolve. Even inside cells, chemical signals indicate how different mechanisms should respond.


We all find it miraculous, said
Professor David Ardellof the UC Merced
School of Natural Sciences. I’ve always been interested in a naturalistic answer for the miracle of life. Trying to explain how it all originated is very difficult. But we can learn a lot by focusing on the way things work and the way they change.

The way Ardell studies the flow of information in natural systems is, appropriately, through sophisticated analysis of information. He’s a computational biologist specializing in genomics. As he explains it, that means he can learn new things without necessarily even gathering new data.

We can mash up data, look at it in creative ways and make new discoveries, he said.

He primarily uses this approach to examine gene expression systems. With the explosion of new information available as genomes have been mapped in the last several years, a computational approach is not just helpful, but necessary, he explained.

Studying protein synthesis and transcription, you can start to see that these systems are like media or computing systems in many ways, he said.

Through his analyses, Ardell finds new ways to consider how cells function and operate within living systems and impact processes that affect all of us - things like growth, disease, stress and aging.

At UC Merced, where he started work Jan. 1, Ardell hopes to continue to pursue several research questions, including the evolution and divergence of tRNA identity - the link between genetic information stored in DNA and the protein assembly controlled by that information.

He said he is also interested in how ecology might influence organisms gene expression systems.

After a three-year stint as a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, where he served as docent of bioinformatics at the Linnaeus Centre for Bioinformatics, Ardell’s arrival at UC Merced this January marked a return to California. He was born in Los Angeles and earned his Ph.D. at Stanford in 2000. His wife, Carolin Frank, is also a new faculty member in
biologyat UC Merced.