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

But the symbiosis began to break down as these hypergrowth companies matured. Jesse M. Fried And Matthew Schoenfeld, WSJ, "Will China Cheat American Investors?," 13 Dec. 2018 In the private sector, instead of simply viewing AI as a means for cost-cutting through automation, businesses can create new jobs by seeking out symbiosis between AI optimizations and the human touch. Kai-fu Lee, WSJ, "The Human Promise of the AI Revolution," 14 Sep. 2018 Floating solar and hydroelectric dams actually work in a pretty nice symbiosis. Megan Geuss, Ars Technica, "Floating solar is more than panels on a platform—it’s hydroelectric’s symbiont," 3 Nov. 2018 And the top practitioner of this left-right symbiosis is Jason Kessler, a 34-year-old University of Virginia graduate. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "The Media Fesses Up," 21 Aug. 2018 There is a wonderful symbiosis between the worlds of fashion and theatre, and who better embodies the two than the surprise guest and presenter John Galliano? Vogue, "Claire Foy, Idris Elba, Anna Wintour, Sophie Okonedo, Ralph Fiennes, and the Cast of Hamilton Fete the 64th Evening Standard Theatre Awards," 19 Nov. 2018 Broderick focuses on the symbiosis between internet media, which excels at promoting a sense of perpetual crisis and outrage, and far-right leaders who promise a return to normalcy. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Why social media is friend to far-right politicians around the world," 30 Oct. 2018 Nothing symbolizes border evanescence like the symbiosis of San Diego and Tijuana, where a bridge over the divide takes Upper Californians to the airport in Baja California. Felipe Fernández-armesto, WSJ, "‘Vanishing Frontiers’ Review: The Ties That Bind," 25 June 2018 The totality equals a crash course in New York choreographic history that reveals an ingenious symbiosis of dance and film. Roberta Smith, New York Times, "12 Galleries to Visit Now in Chelsea," 26 Apr. 2018

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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23 Apr 2019

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The first known use of symbiosis was in 1877

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on symbiosis

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

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