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 Given their tentacles, color-changing skin and other biological novelties, bobtail squids may not seem like the most obvious candidates for helping with the study of symbiosis in humans or other animals. Quanta Magazine, "New Squid Genome Shines Light on Symbiotic Evolution," 19 Feb. 2019 In a new study appearing today in Cell, scientists show that a complex three-way symbiosis between an insect cell and two species of bacteria — one an endosymbiont of the other — deeply intertwines the organisms’ genomes and physiologies. Quanta Magazine, "Cell-Bacteria Mergers Offer Clues to How Organelles Evolved," 3 Oct. 2019 The symbiosis has had an impact on public policy for decades, from those debilitating budget fights in Springfield, to the collapse of the state’s credit rating, to the giant multibillion-dollar hole in the government union pension fund. John Kass,, "Gov. Rauner’s legacy rests with the U.S. Supreme Court," 22 June 2018 Yet the team of actresses here, channeling what Shange called a choreopoem, takes onstage symbiosis to a radiant new level of both reliance and defiance. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "‘For Colored Girls’ Review: Ntozake Shange’s Women Endure," 22 Oct. 2019 Jackson has made similar comments in describing his symbiosis with Andrews. Childs Walker,, "‘Street ball’: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson capitalizes on rare chemistry with tight end Mark Andrews," 20 Sep. 2019 Billy proved to be a good judge of creative symbiosis., "Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods, ‘kings of downtown Portland,’ streaked toward 1980s rock stardom -- until tragedy struck," 8 Aug. 2019 The need for symbiosis between QB and HC is even more necessary — but even more combustible — when a team’s head coach is also the offensive coordinator. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, "Kurtenbach: Does Kyle Shanahan trust Jimmy Garoppolo?," 11 Sep. 2019 The current generation of Communist Party leaders came to power in the age of China’s economic symbiosis with America. The Economist, "SecurityCompanies must get ready for a riskier world," 11 July 2019

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

7 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Symbiosis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Feb. 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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