Exploitation of the cooperative behaviours of anti-CRISPR phages
Bacteriophages encoding anti-CRISPR proteins (Acrs) must cooperate to overcome phage resistance mediated by the bacterial immune system CRISPR-Cas, where the first phage blocks CRISPR-Cas immunity in order to allow a second Acr phage to successfully replicate. However, in nature, bacteria are frequently not pre-immunized, and phage populations are often not clonal, exhibiting variations in Acr presence and strength. We explored how interactions between Acr phages and initially sensitive bacteria evolve, both in the presence and absence of competing phages lacking Acrs. We find that Acr phages benefit “Acr-negative” phages by limiting the evolution of CRISPR-based resistance and helping Acr-negative phages to replicate on resistant host sub-populations. These benefits depend on the strength of CRISPR-Cas inhibitors and result in strong Acrs providing smaller fitness advantages than weaker ones when Acr phages compete with Acr-negative phages. These results indicate that different Acr types shape the evolutionary dynamics and social interactions of phage populations in natural communities.