Anti-CRISPR phages cooperate to overcome CRISPR-Cas immunity
Some phages encode anti-CRISPR (acr) genes, which antagonize bacterial CRISPR-Cas immune systems by binding components of its machinery, but it is less clear how deployment of these acr genes impacts phage replication and epidemiology. Here we demonstrate that bacteria with CRISPR-Cas resistance are still partially immune to Acr-encoding phage. As a consequence, Acr-phages often need to cooperate in order to overcome CRISPR resistance, with a first phage taking down the host CRISPR-Cas immune system to allow a second Acr-phage to successfully replicate. This cooperation leads to epidemiological tipping points in which the initial density of Acr-phage tips the balance from phage extinction to a phage epidemic. Furthermore, both higher levels of CRISPR-Cas immunity and weaker Acr activities shift the tipping points towards higher phage densities. Collectively these data help to understand how interactions between phage-encoded immune suppressors and the CRISPR systems they target shape bacteria-phage population dynamics.