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Research Assistant Starla Zemelis-Durfee accepts new position with Thermo Fisher Scientific

Starla Zemelis-Durfee, research assistant/supervisor from the Brandizzi lab at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL) and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), has accepted a new position as a sales representative for Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Starla began her PRL career 14 years ago, where she started in Jonathan Walton’s lab as an undergraduate researcher. When she started in his lab, she anticipated her career taking a different shape, as she was planning to finish her undergraduate degree then go into dentistry. In the Walton lab, Starla discovered a love of research through her work with Fusarium graminearum, a fungus that affects wheat.

Starla Zemelia-Durfee
Starla Zemelis-Durfee
Image credit: Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

Around the time Starla was graduating, Federica Brandizzi, MSU Foundation Professor in the PRL and the Department of Plant Biology, was looking for a lab manager. Federica remembered Starla from her Eukaryotic Cell Biology class, and the two of them quickly found that they worked very well together.

“Federica has always valued my input and perspective,” Starla said, “and when we discuss science, she is open to hearing my ideas and opinions about how we should move forward with our projects.”

One of the many ways Starla has contributed to research in the Brandizzi lab and the GLBRC is through a technique she specializes in called RNA in situ, where she uses RNAscope® technology to visually identify a single mRNA in a particular section and developmental stage of plant tissue. This is important for establishing temporal and spatial gene function, tissue specific gene expression and biological pathway profiling, promoter identification and development. Starla has really enjoyed this work.  

“Working in Federica’s lab, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in lots of exciting projects,” Starla said. “I’ve had a variety of experiences, including being in the MSU Excellence for Impact commercial and the MSUToday video, ‘Making plants more productive.’ Being involved in not just the research but these cool side pieces has been really rewarding.

“Federica has shown that she has valued me over the last 14 years, and that means a lot to me. The PRL has been like a family to me, and it was a hard decision to change directions. But I feel like I’m making a good decision by being able to still help them and service them through this new job.”

Starla Zemelis-Durfee in the greenhouse
Starla Zemelis-Durfee (center) in the greenhouse with Sang-Jin Kim (left).
Image credit: Michigan State University

In her new position with Thermo Fisher, Starla will be servicing the Lansing area – including MSU – connecting researchers to products and resources.

“I am looking forward to keeping a sense of connection with the people I have become friends with over the years here at MSU and learning more about the science going on in the Lansing area,” Starla said. “I think it’s important for me personally to stay connected to the research and the activities that surround research.”

“We are excited that Starla is taking a new wonderful opportunity for her career and her family!” Federica said. “It has been a privilege to work with and get to know Starla over so many years. We will miss her positive attitude, energy and wisdom.”

Christoph Benning, director of the PRL, added: “Starla’s newest career development is one example of the different job opportunities opening up to PRL members. I’d like to thank Starla for her contributions to the PRL mission and I wish her all the best for her new career path.”


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