Inaugural Sanders Award for Advancing Biotic Science Goes to Argentinian Researcher who leads YOGURITO program

The ISAPP board of directors is pleased to share that the winner of the inaugural Sanders Award for Advancing Biotic Science is Dr. Maria Pía Taranto PhD, a researcher at the Center of Reference for Lactobacilli at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CERELA-CONICET) in Argentina.

Dr. Taranto leads the YOGURITO program, established in 2010, which delivers yogurt and other foods enriched with a probiotic to more than 200,000 lower income schoolchildren through a collaboration between scientists, government, industry, and the local community. For this program, Dr. Taranto and colleagues initially assessed candidate strains and selected L. rhamnosus CRL1505, and then led several preclinical and clinical studies demonstrating how it improves immune function. She and her team then developed the partnerships needed to deliver the foods (yogurt, chocolate milk, fresh cheese, and dehydrated powder) free of charge to children in public schools. Dr. Taranto has showed remarkable tenacity and resourcefulness to lead and maintain this program for over a decade in an environment where funding is limited and irregular and where inflation is high. Today the program has a tangible impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of children per year who may otherwise be at risk of malnutrition.

Dr. Taranto has advanced the biotics field by translating the science and demonstrating real-world impact, using probiotics as a tool to support health in communities with limited resources. In the future she hopes to be able to measure the effects of the probiotic intervention on health and academic outcomes in the children.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and her PhD from National University of Tucuman, Dr. Taranto came to work as a researcher at CERELA-CONICET in 2001. Besides the YOGURITO program, she is involved in research on metabolic and technological aspects of lactic acid bacteria, characterizing new strains for future applications such as in metabolic diseases.

The Sanders Award for Advancing Biotic Science was established in 2023 thanks to the generous contributions of ISAPP community members, to honor the legacy of ISAPP’s former Executive Science Officer, Mary Ellen Sanders PhD. This annual award recognizes someone who has helped advance the biotics field, including probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, postbiotics and fermented foods. This year’s committee, composed of ISAPP board members, an industry member representative and Dr. Sanders, selected Dr. Taranto from among the many deserving nominees. Dr. Taranto will receive a cash award and will speak about her work at the ISAPP annual meeting in July, 2024.

YOGURITO –the Argentinian social program with a special yogurt

Dra. María Pía Taranto, CERELA-CONICET, Argentina and Prof. Seppo Salminen PhD, University of Turku, Finland

It is widely accepted that technologies play a central role in the processes of social change. The Argentinian experience has documented that yogurt can be a promising tool for promoting social development.  The program is called “Scholar Yogurito, the social probiotic” and the probiotic product is called “Yogurito”. This social program began with the development of a probiotic food, in the form of yogurt. This yogurt contains the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus CRL1505, whose functional and technological characteristics are widely documented by CERELA-CONICET researchers. These researchers conducted clinical studies that demonstrated that the consumption of this probiotic product improves natural defenses and prevents respiratory and intestinal infections, the infectious events of greatest relevance in childhood. The “Yogurito Social Program” benefits some 300,000 schoolchildren in the province of Tucumán and some 50,000 in other provinces and municipalities of Argentina. This social transfer project, implemented in 2008 in the province of Tucumán, is a paradigm of interaction between the scientific sector, the manufacturing sector and the state, to improve the quality of life of highly vulnerable populations.

The social and economic implications for such translational research are significant and especially pertinent for people living in poverty, with malnutrition and exposure to environmental toxins and infectious diseases including HIV and malaria. This example of probiotic applications illustrates the power of microbes to positively impact the lives of women, men, and children, right across the food value chain. The researchers are looking for grants that would enable them to compare outcomes of schools given Yogurito to schools with no participation in the program.


Additional reading:

Julio Villena, Susana Salva, Martha Núñez, Josefina Corzo, René Tolaba, Julio Faedda, Graciela Font and Susana Alvarez. Probiotics for Everyone! The Novel Immunobiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus CRL1505 and the Beginning of Social Probiotic Programs in Argentina. International Journal of Biotechnology for Wellness Industries, 2012, 1, 189-198.

Reid G, Kort R, Alvarez S, Bourdet-Sicard R, Benoit V, Cunningham M, Saulnier DM, van Hylckama Vlieg JET, Verstraelen H, Sybesma W. Expanding the reach of probiotics through social enterprises. Benef Microbes. 2018 Sep 18;9(5):707-715. doi: 10.3920/BM2018.0015.

 Senior Researcher Maria Pia Taranto and the Yogurito product


Maria Luz  Ovejero, a teacher at Primary School 252 Manuel Arroyo y Pinedo, explains probiotics to 4-6 year old children in Tucuman province in Argentina