by Kristin Neumann

Yoba for Life - a probiotic * yogurt starter culture to improve health and wealth

Yoba starter culture

Yoba for Life (Y4L) is a foundation that aims to promote the economy and health in the most challenged communities around the world by enabling people to build a better and more prosperous future. This goal is achieved by means of a probiotic yogurt culture called Yoba. Yoba yoghurt contains the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus yoba 2012. This bacterial strain originates from the famous probiotic Lactobacillus strain L. rhamnosus GG (LGG), world's best characterized and best known probiotic bacterial strain.

The first locally produced probiotic Yoba yoghurt projects have been conducted in East Africa, a region where infant mortality rate due to diarrhea is particularly high.

L. rhamnosus GG – the world's first discovered probiotic

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) was isolated from human gut flora in 1985 by Professors Gorbach and Goldin in Boston, USA. Hence the name GG.
  • L. rhamnosus yoba 2012 has been isolated from a product containing L. rhamnosus GG, and is the world’s first generic probiotic strain.
  • L. rhamnosus GG has been studied in over 300 clinical and over 1000 scientific studies. This makes L. rhamnosus GG the best characterized probiotic strain worldwide!

Clinical studies prove the health-promoting effect

  • L. rhamnosus GG is 100% safe and has been tested on premature infants, pregnant women and seniors, with no side effects:
  • L. rhamnosus GG has GRAS status in the US (Generally Regarded As Safe) and QPS status in Europe (Qualified Presumption of Safety, European Food and Safety Authority EFSA).

Over 300 clinical studies have shown that L. rhamnosus GG has the following beneficial effects on health:

  • Reduce respiratory infections2
  • Prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children2
  • Improve the immune response3
  • Reduce crying and restlessness in infants4
  • Relieve symptoms of irritated skins5

2 Hatakka et al. 2001, Hojsak et al. 2010a, Hojsak et al. 2010b, Hojsak et. al 2017, Smith et al. 2013
3 de Vrese et al. 2005
4 Pärtty et al. 2013
5 Isolauri et al. 2000

Massively healthy bacteria in the finished yogurt

The amount of L. rhamnosus yoba bacteria in the finished yogurt varies between

108 (100 million) and
109(1 trillion)

per milliliter yogurt.

Thus, when consuming a Yoba portion of 100 ml or more per day, you cover the recommended daily recommendation for probiotic effectiveness.

Bacterial strain contains special pili that attach to the intestinal wall

L. rhamnosus GG or rather L. rhamnosus yoba contain on the outside special pili (they look like hairs) that help the probiotic to attach to the intestinal epithelial cells. The adhesion keeps bad bacteria away and signalizes to the immune system in the host. These pili are a typical characteristic for L. rhamnosus GG living in the intestinal environment. However, outside such an environment the pili do not bring a competitive advantage and will get lost. The founders behind Yoba for Life have investigated that the pili are still well preserved after two rounds of fermentation of the strain. Therefore, with the dried Yoba starter culture one can make 1 L of yogurt (first round of fermentation). The yoghurt produced in this way can be divided into small portions of 10 ml in an ice cube holder and whenever you want, each Yoba ice cube can be used to prepare another liter of fresh Yoba yogurt (second round of fermentation) without losing its probiotic properties.

The founders of the yogurt starter culture Yoba

Wilbert Sybesma
Yoba-Founder Wilbert Sybesma (PhD, MBA, Senior Researcher at Balgrist University Hospital, Zürich and Innovation Manager at DSM Nutritional Products; Lecturer at Ecole Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne)
Remco Kort
Yoba-Founder Remco Kort (PhD, Prof. Microbial Genomics, Dpt. of Molecular Cell Biology, VU University Amsterdam, Senior Scientist at TNO Microbiology and Systems Biology, Prof. at ARTIS-Micropia, world’s first microbe museum)

The founders of the Y4L Foundation, Dr. Wilbert Sybesma and Prof. Remco Kort, isolated the strain from an L. rhamnosus GG product and created the so-called generic probiotic strain L. rhamnosus yoba 2012. In collaboration with two companies who produce starter cultures Wilbert and Remco have created a blend of L. rhamnosus yoba and Streptococcus thermophilus C106 which allows the L. rhamnosus yoba to proliferate in milk, while performing the milk into a yoghurt or other food such as cereals or fruits.

"Y4L" and "Fermented Food For Life"

Fermented Food For Life
Fermented Food For Life – a project that also provides training on the production and sale of probiotic yoghurts.

In 2016, Y4L teamed up with Professor Gregor Reid and team and together they launched the Fermented Food For Life project, funded by the Government of Canada. It was designed to offer local communities new business opportunities by training about production and sales of locally produced probiotic yoghurts and in this way to facilitate access to affordable probiotic fermented food for people living in resource poor areas in East Africa. The driver behind these activities is the Yoba probiotic starter culture. Local partners such as Heifer Uganda, Heifer Kenya and JKAT Kenya distribute the starter cultures to the communities and provide training on production and entrepreneurship. In parallel, researchers investigate how locally available foods such as soy, cereals, corn, millet and sorghum can be transformed into healthier probiotic fermented variants.

In order to stimulate the demand and inform people about the advantages of probiotic yoghurts, the teams organizes road shows, cooperates with restaurants, shops and school nutrition programs. To further teach people in an entertaining way on the importance of probiotic Yoba and about the advantages of starting a business with Yoba yoghurt a movie called “The Promised Land” was produced by local actors in Mombasa.

This has been achieved by the FFFL project so far:

  • More than 100 production sites in Uganda reaching more than 250,000 regular consumers
  • More than 60 production sites in Tanzania
  • About 10 production sites in Kenya
  • In total, 25,000 liters of probiotic yoghurt are produced per week
  • 68% of people involved in production and sales are female
Dr. Kristin Neumann
Dr. Kristin Neumann

I was always curious about how life works in its tiny details and ended up spending a lot of time in the lab, working with these bacteria and getting a PhD in Microbiology. I always had the idealistic idea of working on something that changes peoples live for the better …

Kort, R., and Sybesma, W. (2012). Probiotics for every body. Trends Biotechnol 30,613-615.

Kort, R., Westerik, N., Mariela Serrano, L., Douillard, F.P., Gottstein, W., Mukisa, I.M., Tuijn, C.J., Basten, L., Hafkamp, B., Meijer, W.C., Teusink, B., De Vos, W.M., Reid, G., and Sybesma, W. (2015). A novel consortium of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Streptococcus thermophilus for increased access to functional fermented foods. Microb Cell Fact 14,195.

Reid, G., Kort, R., Alvarez, S., Bourdet-Sicard, R., Benoit, V., Cunningham, M., Saulnier, D.M., Van Hylckama Vlieg, J.E.T., Verstraelen, H., and Sybesma, W. (2018). Expanding the reach of probiotics through social enterprises. Benef Microbes,1-10.

Westerik, N., Kort, R., Sybesma, W., and Reid, G. (2018). Lactobacillus rhamnosus Probiotic Food as a Tool for Empowerment Across the Value Chain in Africa. Front Microbiol9,1501.

Westerik, N., Wacoo, A.P., Sybesma, W., and Kort, R. (2016). Novel Production Protocol for Small-scale Manufacture of Probiotic Fermented Foods. J Vis Exp.

*Definition probiotic: the adjective "probiotic" used in this article refers to the definition of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP): "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host". According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the adjective "probiotic" is not authorized for any of the "probiotics" on the market


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