Ben Minkoff receives 2020 Boyer Award

Ben Minkoff
Ben Minkoff.

The Department of Biochemistry is pleased to announce Benjamin Minkoff as the winner of the 2020 Boyer Award for Postdoctoral Excellence in Biochemistry. The award recognizes and rewards excellence in research accomplishments in the Department of Biochemistry.

Minkoff was part of a team of researchers who invented a new technique to perform protein ‘footprinting,’ or ‘protein painting.’ The technique, called Plasma-Induced Modification of Biomolecules (PLIMB), uses a machine invented by the team that allows researchers to gather data on protein structure, assembly, and interactions.

“A protein is like a balled-up string,” said Minkoff. “Using the PLIMB technique, researchers throw reactive molecules at the protein, like throwing paint at it, then unravel the “string” and observe where it was painted.”

Minkoff and his teammates have developed workflows for unraveling the protein and analyzing how the paint, in this case, hydroxyl radicals, cling to it. The new process helps maintain the integrity of the sample, which makes more proteins in more variable conditions amenable to analysis.

Sample testing.
A sample being exposed using the PLIMB technique.

The technique was developed in collaboration with the Shohet Laboratory in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. WARF patented the technique and the team founded a company, Immuto Scientific, Inc., set to become operational this spring.

Minkoff also works in collaboration with Professor Mike Cox‘s lab to identify what may be the first protein targets of ionizing radiation (IR)-induced oxidation within E. coli. Research has been performed for many years identifying the changes in DNA that are caused by radiation, but comparatively little research has been conducted for proteins. This research has potentially important implications, as evidence shows that initial changes in protein targets caused by radiation may be key to either sensing or surviving lethal radiation damage.

Recipients of the Boyer award receive a $1000 award check and are asked to present their research in a public seminar. Minkoff’s seminar on the invention and use of PLIMB will be scheduled for early in 2021, at a date and time to be named.

“I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of the above,” said Minkoff, “without the support of and wonderfully collaborative environment at UW-Madison and the Department of Biochemistry – and without the support of far too many people to mention by name.”

Minkoff is a scientist (and formerly postdoc) in the lab of Professor Mike Sussman. He earned his Ph.D in Biochemistry from UW-Madison in 2016, during which time he also studied in the Sussman lab.

“Ben displays the best of all we could hope for from a scientist in our department,” said Sussman, “creativity, very high standards of rigor and excellence in data collection, analysis and interpretation, and also, being a humble, friendly and highly collaborative individual as well.”

The Boyer Award was made possible by a generous donation from Paul D. Boyer, a graduate of the Department of Biochemistry with a master’s in 1941 and a Ph.D. in 1943. Dr. Boyer was a co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and used a portion of his prize to establish the Boyer Award for Postdoctoral Excellence in the Department of Biochemistry.