Why is DNA a template?

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A template is a tool that is used to guide a process. For example, a thin board or metal plate is used to guide cutting or drilling metal, stone, or wood, etc. DNA, as a template, means that the DNA is used as a guide to synthesize an exact copy of the DNA. In genetics we refer to the copying of DNA as replication. Replication of DNA happens during cell division – which it the process of cell multiplication. There are two types of cell divisions in multicellular organisms. They are mitosis and meiosis.

Mitosis multiplies cells during the growth of an organism. Thus, exact DNA replicas are transmitted from one cell generation to the next.

See mitosis to learn how cells make exact copies of themselves.

Meiosis produces sex cells in sex organs. DNA is also replicated during meiosis, but, after replication special processes recombine the DNA so that the sex cells that are formed are not identical. It should be noted that the transmission of DNA through sex cells are from a parental generation to their progeny.

See meiosis to find out how meiosis goes about scrambling DNA to produce sex cells that are not identical.

Exercise for scholars 

This is how a template works – use it to make copies.

Draw a shape on a piece of card; I drew the shape of a puzzle piece. 
Cut this shape out with a scissors.
Now, place the card with the cut out puzzle piece on a piece of paper.
Draw the outline of the shape.
 
Replication of DNA during cell division is not always perfect. Although there are systems that proofread the replication of DNA, sometimes mistakes do occur. These mistakes, called mutations, are then transmitted to subsequent cells or to progeny if they occurred during meiosis when sex cells are formed.

Exercise for scholars

Mutations are also transmitted from the cell carrying a mutation to the next cell generation. Repeat the above exercise with the template below and describe the difference between the two drawings that you made in these exercises.