Bacteria and archaea use CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune systems to defend themselves from infection by bacteriophages (phages). These RNA-guided nucleases are powerful weapons in the fight against foreign DNA, such as phages and plasmids, as well as a revolutionary gene editing tool. Phages are not passive bystanders in their interactions with CRISPR-Cas systems, however; recent discoveries have described phage genes that inhibit CRISPR-Cas function. More than 20 protein families, previously of unknown function, have been ascribed anti-CRISPR function. Here, we discuss how these CRISPR-Cas inhibitors were discovered and their modes of action were elucidated. We also consider the potential impact of anti-CRISPRs on bacterial and phage evolution. Finally, we speculate about the future of this field.


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