Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία "synergy". Online Etymology Dictionary from , , meaning "working together".
HistoryThe words "synergy" and "synergetic" have been used in the field of physiology since at least the middle of the 19th century: SYN'ERGY, Synergi'a, Synenergi'a, (F.) Synergie; from συν, 'with,' and εργον, 'work.' A correlation or concourse of action between different organs in health; and, according to some, in disease. —Dunglison, Robley Medical Lexicon Blanchard and Lea, 1853 In 1896, applied the term "synergy" to social psychology by writing La synergie sociale, in which he argued that Darwinian theory failed to account for "social synergy" or "social love", a collective evolutionary drive. The highest civilizations were the work not only of the elite but of the masses too; those masses must be led, however, because the crowd, a feminine and unconscious force, cannot distinguish between good and evil.Werth, Margaret The Joy of Life: The Idyllic in French Art, circa 1900 University of California Press, 2002, p. 51 In 1909, Lester Frank Ward defined synergy as the universal constructive principle of nature: I have characterized the social struggle as centrifugal and social solidarity as centripetal. Either alone is productive of evil consequences. Struggle is essentially destructive of the social order, while communism removes individual initiative. The one leads to disorder, the other to degeneracy. What is not seen—the truth that has no expounders—is that the wholesome, constructive movement consists in the properly ordered combination and interaction of both these principles. This is social synergy, which is a form of cosmic synergy, the universal constructive principle of nature. —Ward, Lester F. Glimpses of the Cosmos, volume VI (1897–1912) G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1918, p. 358
Descriptions and usagesIn the natural world, synergistic phenomena are ubiquitous, ranging from physics (for example, the different combinations of quarks that produce protons and neutrons) to chemistry (a popular example is water, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen), to the cooperative interactions among the genes in genomes, the division of labor in bacterial colonies, the synergies of scale in multi-cellular organisms, as well as the many different kinds of synergies produced by socially-organized groups, from honeybee colonies to wolf packs and human societies: compare stigmergy, a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions that results in the self-assembly of complex systems. Even the tools and technologies that are widespread in the natural world represent important sources of synergistic effects. The tools that enabled early hominins to become systematic big-game hunters is a primordial human example.Peter A. Corning, Nature's Magic: Synergy in Evolution and the Fate of Humankind, New York: Cambridge University Press 2003 ; Peter A. Corning, Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics and the Bioeconomics of Evolution, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2005 In the context of organizational behavior, following the view that a cohesive group is more than the sum of its parts, synergy is the ability of a group to outperform even its best individual member. These conclusions are derived from the studies conducted by Jay Hall on a number of laboratory-based group ranking and prediction tasks. He found that effective groups actively looked for the points in which they disagreed and in consequence encouraged conflicts amongst the participants in the early stages of the discussion. In contrast, the ineffective groups felt a need to establish a common view quickly, used simple decision making methods such as averaging, and focused on completing the task rather than on finding solutions they could agree on.David Buchanan & Andrzej Huczynski: Organizational behavior, introductory text. Prentice Hall, pp 276, Third Edition 1997 In a technical context, its meaning is a construct or collection of different elements working together to produce results not obtainable by any of the elements alone. The elements, or parts, can include people, hardware, software, facilities, policies, documents: all things required to produce system-level results. The value added by the system as a whole, beyond that contributed independently by the parts, is created primarily by the relationship among the parts, that is, how they are interconnected. In essence, a system constitutes a set of interrelated components working together with a common objective: fulfilling some designated need.Benjamin Blanchard, System Engineering Management, pp 8, John Wiley 2004, If used in a business application, synergy means that teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person within the group were working toward the same goal individually. However, the concept of group cohesion needs to be considered. Group cohesion is that property that is inferred from the number and strength of mutual positive attitudes among members of the group. As the group becomes more cohesive, its functioning is affected in a number of ways. First, the interactions and communication between members increase. Common goals, interests and small size all contribute to this. In addition, group member satisfaction increases as the group provides friendship and support against outside threats.David Buchanan & Andrzej Huczynski: Organizational behavior, introductory text, Prentice Hall, pp 275, Third Edition 1997 There are negative aspects of group cohesion that have an effect on group decision-making and hence on group effectiveness. There are two issues arising. The risky shift phenomenon is the tendency of a group to make decisions that are riskier than those that the group would have recommended individually. Group Polarisation is when individuals in a group begin by taking a moderate stance on an issue regarding a common value and, after having discussed it, end up taking a more extreme stance.David Buchannan & Andrzej Huczynski: Organizational behavior, introductory text. Prentice Hall, pp 280, Third Edition 1997 A second, potential negative consequence of group cohesion is group think. Group think is a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in cohesive group, when the members' striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to appraise realistically the alternative courses of action. Studying the events of several American policy "disasters" such as the failure to anticipate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) and the Bay of Pigs Invasion fiasco (1961), Irving Janis argued that they were due to the cohesive nature of the committees that made the relevant decisions.David Buchanan & Andrzej Huczynski: Organizational behavior, introductory text. Prentice Hall, pp 283, Third Edition 1997 That decisions made by committees lead to failure in a simple system is noted by Dr. Chris Elliot. His case study looked at IEEE-488, an international standard set by the leading US standards body; it led to a failure of small automation systems using the IEEE-488 standard (which codified a proprietary communications standard HP-IB). But the external devices used for communication were made by two different companies, and the incompatibility between the external devices led to a financial loss for the company. He argues that systems will be safe only if they are designed, not if they emerge by chance.:Dr Chris Elliot, System safety and Law, Proceedings of First International Conference on System Safety, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London, pp 344-351(2006) The idea of a systemic approach is endorsed by the United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive. The successful performance of the health and safety management depends upon the analyzing the causes of incidents and accidents and learning correct lessons from them. The idea is that all events (not just those causing injuries) represent failures in control, and present an opportunity for learning and improvement.UK Health and Safety Executive, Successful health and safety management, ,(1997) UK Health and Safety Executive, Successful health and safety management (1997): this book describes the principles and management practices, which provide the basis of effective health and safety management. It sets out the issues that need to be addressed, and can be used for developing improvement programs, self-audit, or self-assessment. Its message is that organizations must manage health and safety with the same degree of expertise and to the same standards as other core business activities, if they are to effectively control risks and prevent harm to people. The term synergy was refined by R. Buckminster Fuller, who analyzed some of its implications more fully SYNERGETICS Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking by R. Buckminster Fuller (online version) and coined the term synergetics.Fuller, R. B., (1975), Synergetics: Explorations In The Geometry Of Thinking, in collaboration with E. J. Applewhite. Introduction and contribution by Arthur L. Loeb. Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., New York.
- A dynamic state in which combined action is favored over the difference of individual component actions.
- Behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately, known as emergent behavior.
- The cooperative action of two or more stimuli (or drugs), resulting in a different or greater response than that of the individual stimuli.
Biological sciencesSynergy of various kinds has been advanced by Peter Corning as a causal agency that can explain the progressive evolution of complexity in living systems over the course of time. According to the Synergism Hypothesis, synergistic effects have been the drivers of cooperative relationships of all kinds and at all levels in living systems. The thesis, in a nutshell, is that synergistic effects have often provided functional advantages (economic benefits) in relation to survival and reproduction that have been favored by natural selection. The cooperating parts, elements, or individuals become, in effect, functional “units” of selection in evolutionary change.Peter A. Corning, The Synergism Hypothesis: A Theory of Progressive Evolution, New York, McGraw Hill 1983 ; Peter A. Corning, Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics and the Bio economics of Evolution, Chicago, University of Chicago Press 2005 ; Synergy and self-organization in the evolution of complex systems. Similarly, environmental systems may react in a non-linear way to perturbations, such as climate change, so that the outcome may be greater than the sum of the individual component alterations. Synergistic responses are a complicating factor in environmental modeling.Myers, N Environmental Unknowns (1995).
Pest synergyPest synergy would occur in a biological host organism population, where, for example, the introduction of parasite A may cause 10% fatalities, and parasite B may also cause 10% loss. When both parasites are present, the losses would normally be expected to total less than 20%, yet, in some cases, losses are significantly greater. In such cases, it is said that the parasites in combination have a synergistic effect.
Drug synergyDrug synergy occurs when drugs can interact in ways that enhance or magnify one or more effects, or side-effects, of those drugs. This is sometimes exploited in combination preparations, such as codeine mixed with acetaminophen or ibuprofen to enhance the action of codeine as a pain reliever. Some drug users frequently utilize 5-HTP, a serotonin precursor often used as an antidepressant, prior to and after ingestion of MDMA. It is said to increase the "high" and decreases the "comedown" stages of MDMA use, although most anecdotal evidence has pointed to 5-HTP significantly altering the effect of MDMA when used at the same time, as well as potentiating the side effects associated with serotonin syndrome ). Other examples include the use of cannabis with LSD, where the active chemicals in cannabis have been reported to enhance the hallucinatory experience of LSD.. Negative effects of synergy are a form of contraindication. For example, a combination of depressant drugs that affect the central nervous system (CNS), such as alcohol and Valium, can cause a greater reaction than simply the sum of the individual effects of each drug if they were used separately. In this particular case, the most serious consequence of drug synergy is exaggerated respiratory depression, which can be fatal if left untreated. Mixing drugs can produce potentially fatal reactions within the brain, such as serotonin syndrome, due to synergistic reactions changing chemical and receptor activity. In the case of Monoamine oxidase inhibitor ( MAOI) medications, mainly used as last-straw antidepressants, mixing certain foods and drugs may cause hypertension or hyperserotonemia. Drug synergy can occur both in biological activity and because of pharmacokinetics. Shared metabolic enzymes can cause drugs to remain in the bloodstream much longer in higher concentrations than if individually taken. A paper presenting a community computational challenge to predict synergy outlines the difficulty of predicting synergy based on high-throughput data.Mukesh Bansal et al.: ”A community computational challenge to predict the activity of pairs of compounds''. Nature Biotechnology 32, 1213-1222, 2014 The Food and Drug Administration published a guideline for the pharmaceutical industry stressing the need to understand combination effects and synergy.Guidance for Industry : Codevelopment of Two or More New Investigational Drugs for Use in Combination. June 2013. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/drugs/guidancecomplianceregulatoryinformation/guidances/ucm236669.pdf
Drug synergy mechanismsThe following are further sample mechanisms that may be involved in the development of synergistic effects:
- improvement of absorption or bioavailability (bioenhancer; for example loperamide reduces the motility of the small intestine, thus increasing the absorption of many drugs absorbed in the small intestine).Kathy Moscou, Karen Snipe: Pharmacology for Pharmacy Technicians. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012, , S. 56.
- displacement of an agent from plasma proteins to which it usually binds, whereby the non-bound and thus the effective fraction of the agent is increased.Kathy Moscou, Karen Snipe: Pharmacology for Pharmacy Technicians. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012, , page 57.
- Binding to similar receptors (e.g. two ACE inhibitors may bind to the same receptor).
- Effect on the same cellular system (e.g. two different antibiotics like a penicillin and an aminoglycoside; penicillins damage the cell wall of gram-positive bacteria and improve the penetration of aminoglycosides).K. D. Tripathi: Essentials of Medical Pharmacology G - Reference, Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series. JP Medical Ltd, 2013, , page 698.
- Prevention or delay of degradation in the body (e.g. the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin inhibits the metabolism of Theophylline).K. D. Tripathi: Essentials of Medical Pharmacology G - Reference, Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series. JP Medical Ltd, 2013, , page 931.
- Slowdown of excretion (e.g. Probenecid delays the nephron|tubular secretion of Penicillin in the kidney and thus prolongs its effect).
- Anticounteractive action, for example the effect of oxaliplatin and irinotecan. Oxaliplatin intercalates DNA whereby the cell is not able to replicate DNA. Then, topoisomerase 1 tries to repair the damage. Irinotecan inhibits topoisomerase 1, consequently the cytostatic effect is increasedJia Jia et al: "Mechanisms of drug combinations: interaction and network perspectives." Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 8, 111-130, 2009