Dr. Marth argues the following:
As indivisible units of life, the cells of all organisms consist of four fundamental macromolecular components: nucleic acids (including DNA and RNA), proteins, lipids and glycans. From the construction, modification and interaction of these components, the cell develops and functions. The struggle to comprehend this interplay is the preoccupation of biologists, and more recently those engaged in systems biology. But do we readily take into account all of the components of biological systems to model health and disease accurately? To do this, the basic composition of all cells must be evident.And closes with the following:
The physical sciences developed the periodic table of the elements to convey the composition and relatedness of matter. A related construct for biology may provide a more balanced view of the cell and its biochemistry.
Defining the molecular building blocks of life provides a conceptual framework for biology that has the potential to enhance education and research by promoting the integration of knowledge. The insights afforded by bridging the divides that exist between disciplines can further moderate the view that researchers must invariably sacrifice breadth of knowledge to acquire depth of understanding. Cultivating this integration would reflect a more holistic and rigorous endeavour, which will ultimately be required if we are to perceive and most effectively manipulate the biological mechanisms of health and disease.
It's an interesting concept. I'm not sure that the figure presented lends itself to easy memorization, a better understanding of the interactions of the molecules, or if it is as useful as the periodic table. Do we need to have better interdisciplinary collaborations? Most certainly. You see a fair amount of overlap (in some cases, not all) between the gene jockeys and protein chemists, but I think glycan and lipid research has lagged far behind (at least in the areas of microbiology to which I have been exposed). So, while an interesting concept, I'm not sure what traction this correspondence will obtain. Time will tell I suppose.
Jamey D. Marth (2008). A unified vision of the building blocks of life Nature Cell Biology, 10 (9), 1015-1015 DOI: 10.1038/ncb0908-1015