sym·​bi·​o·​sis | \ ˌsim-bē-ˈō-səs How to pronounce symbiosis (audio) , -ˌbī- \
plural symbioses\ ˌsim-​bē-​ˈō-​ˌsēz How to pronounce symbiosis (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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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 After more than a two decades relationship, media conglom Atresmedia Group and the Málaga Film Festival have grown what looks like a unique case of symbiosis in the Spanish film-TV industry. Emiliano De Pablos, Variety, 24 Mar. 2022 The symbiosis can also be found in the pioneering spirit of the artist and the founder of La Prairie, Dr. Paul Niehans. Jennifer Lee, Forbes, 2 May 2022 It’s been well-established that the symbiosis between the network and Trump drove national policy during Trump’s four years in office, and McCarthy’s fate may hinge on the less-than-subtle messaging coming from the nation’s leading cable channel. Philip Elliott, Time, 28 Apr. 2022 McCarten builds upon the incident, via an all-too-expedient appearance by an ex-girlfriend (Sofia Barclay), to energize the men’s growing symbiosis. David Benedict, Variety, 25 Feb. 2022 With the arrival of 5G, the entire industry saw just how much more important RF was and how there were benefits to a close digital and analog symbiosis. Patrick Moorhead, Forbes, 7 Mar. 2022 The Ravens will probably pick up his fifth-year option, recognizing the promise in his symbiosis with Jackson. Childs Walker,, 14 Jan. 2022 This example of hibernator-microbe symbiosis has potential clinical applications. Matthew Regan, The Conversation, 27 Jan. 2022 Nevertheless, many of us still would not want to compromise the integrity of our designs and aesthetics for the sake of functionality, so our design and function implementations need to exist in symbiosis. Amanda Lauren, Forbes, 4 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

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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Last Updated

16 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Symbiosis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for symbiosis


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 symbiosis (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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