sym·​bi·​o·​sis | \ ˌsim-bē-ˈō-səs How to pronounce symbiosis (audio) , -ˌbī- \
plural symbioses\ ˌsim-​bē-​ˈō-​ˌsēz How to pronounce symbioses (audio) \

Definition of symbiosis

1 : the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms (as in parasitism or commensalism) especially : mutualism
2 : a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups) the symbiosis … between the resident population and the immigrants— John Geipel

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Did You Know?

Symbiosis was adopted by the scientific community in the late 1800s, though it had appeared in English in a non-scientific sense as far back as 1622. When a biological symbiosis is mutually beneficial, it is termed "mutualism." For example, when the yucca moth lays her eggs in the seed pods of the yucca, she acts as pollinator, and when the larvae hatch they feed on some, but not all, of the seeds. When one organism lives off another at the other’s expense, it’s called "parasitism." Either way, living together is what "symbiosis" is all about; the word came to us, via German and New Latin, from the Greek symbiōsis, meaning "state of living together." "Symbiōsis," in turn, traces to "symbios" ("living together"), a combination of syn-, meaning "with," and bios, meaning "life."

Examples of symbiosis in a Sentence

The bird lives in symbiosis with the hippopotamus. Their professional association was one of symbiosis.
Recent Examples on the Web Algae living inside the cells of larvae supply the animals with oxygen, a symbiosis that ends as the salamanders mature. Brandon Keim, New York Times, "Coronavirus Lets Salamanders Own the Road," 18 May 2020 Thousands of insect species are infected with Wolbachia, making symbiosis a potentially major player in the development of these species. Carrie Arnold, Quanta Magazine, "Evolving With a Little Help From Our Friends," 4 June 2014 Godard uses a scientific analogy — the idea of symbiosis between microbes and humans — that breaks down a phenomenon the same way his earlier films broke down capitalism and Communism. Armond White, National Review, "Godard Speaks on Cinematic and Scientific Viruses," 1 May 2020 Still, the flashy new Mithraeum is evidence that some have found a symbiosis in using the past to try to make their projects more palatable to locals. Megan Gannon, Popular Science, "Archaeologists and construction workers are teaming up to unearth historic relics," 13 Apr. 2020 Sign Up Now The hydroxychloroquine phenomenon is the result of a perfect symbiosis between the president and his backers in the media. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "How Hydroxychloroquine Became Conservative Media’s Coronavirus Miracle Drug," 8 Apr. 2020 Eugene Ormandy gave Philadelphia 44 years, but that’s a record for this type of symbiosis. David Mermelstein, WSJ, "A Career Filled With High Notes," 3 Mar. 2020 And then the way that traditional theory has fomented it or not contested it — there’s been kind of a strange symbiosis between mainstream economic thinking and stupid policies. Katy Lederer, New York Times, "Meet the Leftish Economist With a New Story About Capitalism," 26 Nov. 2019 The key to this symbiosis is that the two systems—open and proprietary—remain in balance, according to Paul David, a Stanford economist. E. Richard Gold, Fortune, "The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the status quo on drug development. We should build on that," 26 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'symbiosis.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of symbiosis

1877, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for symbiosis

borrowed from German Symbiose, borrowed from Greek symbíōsis "living together, companionship," from symbiō-, variant stem of symbioûn "to live with, live together" (from sym- sym- + bioûn "to live, pass one's life," derivative of bíos "life") + -sis -sis — more at quick entry 1

Note: As a term in life sciences German Symbiose was promulgated, if not introduced, by the mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary (1831-88) in Die Erscheinung der Symbiose: Vortrag gehalten auf der Versammlung der Deutscher Naturforscher und Aertze zu Cassel (Strassburg, 1879); a portion of the lecture appeared earlier as "Ueber Symbiose" in Der Naturforscher, 11. Jahrgang, No. 43, October 26, 1878, pp. 400-04. He defines the word briefly as "the living together of differently denominated organisms" ("[das] Zusammenleben ungleichnamiger Organismen," p. 5). De Bary was probably aware of the slightly earlier synonymous term Symbiotismus, introduced by the plant pathologist Albert Bernhard Frank (1839-1900) in "Ueber die biologischen Verhältnisse des Thallen einiger Krustenflechten," Beiträge zur Biologie der Pflanzen, Band 2 (1877), p. 195.

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The first known use of symbiosis was in 1877

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Last Updated

29 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Symbiosis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for symbiosis


How to pronounce symbiosis (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of symbiosis

biology : the relationship between two different kinds of living things that live together and depend on each other
formal : a relationship between two people or groups that work with and depend on each other


sym·​bi·​o·​sis | \ ˌsim-ˌbī-ˈō-səs How to pronounce symbiosis (audio) , -bē- How to pronounce symbiosis (audio) \
plural symbioses\ -​ˌsēz How to pronounce symbioses (audio) \

Medical Definition of symbiosis

1 : the living together of two dissimilar organisms in more or less intimate association or close union
2 : the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship especially : mutualism

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More from Merriam-Webster on symbiosis

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for symbiosis

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with symbiosis Encyclopedia article about symbiosis

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