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What is a template?

In the item The Language of Neo-darwinism I refer to DNA sequences as templates rather than as code. What is a template and why do I think that is a better metaphor?

I am the fortunate owner of three classical guitars made by the top English luthiers, David Rubio and Paul Fischer. David Rubio made guitars for Julian Bream and the label of one of my Rubios is signed by Bream. I inherited this guitar by buying it from my guitar teacher.


Guitar made by Paul Fischer with uniform fine-grained cedar for the soundboard

Needless to say, these guitars are a joy to play. I am not really a good enough performer for them but I love being able to play them. Like inheriting a good genome from your parents, it helps with life, it gives you a head start!

Why are these guitars so good? All top luthiers select the wood very carefully and season it correctly. The soundboard must have an almost perfectly uniform grain. But this is not all. The soundboard resonance properties are also determined by struts that are placed on the underside of the wood, inside the guitar and hidden from view. The pattern of these struts is unique to each luthier. In their striving to combine sweet tone with increased volume, they experiment extensively with exactly how the struts should be placed.

Recently, I acquired the template that Paul Fischer used to ensure that his struts follow his designed pattern. He has now retired from guitar making and no longer needs it. The template is for a fan strut pattern, which is characteristic of his guitars

The precise placing of these fan struts (braces) determines the balance between the resonances of the wood at different frequencies. In a sense therefore the template used is a cause of the way in which the instrument plays. So also is the way in which the guitarist strikes the strings. Even the shape, length and smoothness of the fingernails are important. But clearly we are dealing here with different kinds of cause. The template is a passive cause. Its existence and use were necessary but in no sense can the template be said to play the music. The active cause of the music that the instrument produces is the act of playing by the guitarist. This distinction between active and passive causes is important.

This is the distinction that is ignored when people say that their genes Ďmade them Ö body and mindí. The genome is our template. Our protein networks within the cells and organs of the body are our guitar. But we play the music of life.

The genome sequences work just like Fischerís template. They determine how my bodyís proteins are structured. But they do not themselves carry out the physiological functions served by proteins, metabolites and the three-dimensional cellular and organ structures within which they work.   

Itís as simple as that.

  With thanks to Paul Fischer

  Luthier extraordinaire



  The MUSIC of Life: Biology Beyond the Genome                                                                                                                                 ©Denis Noble