The Pelling Lab welcomes a range of perspectives and ideas. Those expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Andrew Pelling or the Pelling Lab.
We're interviewing Nikki Mogilever who is a physiology student at McGill University. Nikki is spending the summer with the Pelling Lab exploring cell culture innovation. When away from the lab, she is playing guitar, painting, or cooking at her apartment.
My name is Nikki, and I am a student at McGill University. I study physiology and am going into my final year of my bachelor's degree. I am very passionate about animal rights and the intersection it has with science, and I want to devote my life to that field.
What do you do in the Pelling Lab?
I'm a cell culture scientist. Initially, I thought I was going to be a research assistant, but I actually was lucky enough to have my own project. My day-to-day responsibilities include growing cells, running experiments, and helping other lab members with similar roles to me.
My project is trying to replace fetal bovine serum, which is a common animal-derived ‘food’ used to grow cells. You get FBS in slaughterhouses by extracting it from the fetus’ hearts, after slaughtering pregnant cows. There are many problems with fetal bovine serum, yet it's used in almost every cell culture lab in the world. Because it's so widespread and in high demand, there are countless cows dying for it. There are benefits to using it, but there are ethical issues that go along with it.
Another reason it would be beneficial to replace FBS is to better standardize scientific experiments. The mother cow's diet, when it was killed, how it was treated in its life, the conditions it was raised in, and the fetus' gestation stage affect the serum’s composition. From sample to sample, the serum will contain different amounts of proteins, ions, and hormones. Since scientists want to be able to replicate their experiments, it would be important to find a cell media that was consistent every time it were to be used.
"My project is to replace FBS [...] There are benefits to using it, but there are ethical issues that go along with it"
What are your views on animal testing?
I don't think animal testing should be used for cosmetics or household products. We have many alternative ways to determine if something is toxic or not - animal testing is often used just to cut costs. It’s very unnecessary and cruel.
However, when we’re talking about science and medical testing, animals are of a more important use. It’s a much harder line to draw. I think that testing on animals and using them for medical benefits, in my opinion, is okay. However, if there is the opportunity to not use an animal in a cruel way – for example, by replacing fetal bovine serum – it should be done. Science must strive to reduce its cruelty towards animals and environmental impact where possible.
Why do you love science?
I love that science isn’t about aiming for a certain outcome necessarily. Science is about having a hypothesis, testing if it’s wrong, and going from there. I like that there’s a journey and I like that you don’t know where that journey will take you. Science isn’t proving that you’re right – it’s proving that you’re wrong. Through that, we can learn so many things that we may not think are important at the moment but could have really cool applications in the future.
What scientific innovation are you most excited to see?
Clean meat! That’s what excites me the most. In my opinion, in 30-50 years, eating actual farmed meat will be taboo, the way trophy hunting is now. If we want to be sustainable and lead our planet in the right direction in terms of our own health and our planet’s health, clean meat is a great alternative. Not eating meat from industrial farming is the number one thing you can do as an individual to stop climate change and pollution. It doesn’t scare me at all, I’m just so excited.