Schlebach wins Tabor award

for protein-folding work

Published September 01 2017

Tabor award winner Jonathan Schlebach is an assistant professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. PHOTO COURTESY OF JONATHAN SCHLEBACH

Jonathan Schlebach, assistant professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, has won a 2017 Journal of Biochemistry/Herbert Tabor Young Investigator Award. His work is devoted to understanding the molecular mechanisms of disease, which describe how genomic mutations lead to the formation of misfolded proteins that disrupt cellular function.

Schlebach was selected for this award by JBC Associate Editor Karen Fleming of Johns Hopkins University. She presented the award to Schlebach at the Membrane Protein Folding Gordon Research Conference held from June 4 to 9 at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. According to Fleming, “Jonathan’s work represents the best of many multiscalar approaches to cellular biochemistry, because it bridges rigorous biophysical measurements on protein stability to the phenotypic consequences in the cellular context.”

Schlebach’s recent work focuses on how the fundamentals of protein folding manifest themselves in the molecular basis for diseases. Recent innovations in genetics have brought forth inexpensive genome sequencing, which allows researchers easily to identify mutations in DNA. However, the identification of new mutations only raises more questions about how these variations in genetic information lead to potentially harmful changes in protein structure. “That’s where we’re hoping to come in,” Schlebach said, “providing tools and other experiments that will help us interpret the effects of mutations (on proteins).” In a recent publication, Schlebach and colleagues correlated increases in the free energy of membrane folding with different phenotypes for muscular dystrophy.

In his laboratory at Indiana University, Schlebach’s research targets proteins associated with autism and cystic fibrosis. He hopes to combine the next generation of genetic tools that allow researchers to scan simultaneously hundreds of mutations with his experimental methods to identify how these modifications are borne out in the conformation of proteins in the cell. Doing so “allows us to test both protein folding and evolutionary hypotheses in disease,” Schlebach said, which he finds very exciting.

Born in Springfield, Ill., Schlebach attended the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. He graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. His interest in the kinetics and thermodynamics of protein folding took him to Chiwook Park’s laboratory at Purdue University for his Ph.D. Upon completing his Ph.D. in 2012, Schlebach traveled to Vanderbilt University for a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Charles R. Sanders. He became an assistant professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, in 2016.

Lauren Borja Lauren Borja is a science writer with a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.