The 1952 observation of host-induced non-hereditary variation in bacteriophages by Salvador Luria and Mary Human led to the discovery in the 1960s of modifying enzymes that glucosylate hydroxymethylcytosine in T-even phages and of genes encoding corresponding host activities that restrict non-glucosylated phage DNA: rglA and rglB (restricts glucoseless phage). In the 1980's, appreciation of the biological scope of these activities was dramatically expanded with the demonstration that plant and animal DNA was also sensitive to restriction in cloning experiments. The rgl genes were renamed mcrA and mcrBC (modified cytosine restriction). The new class of modification-dependent restriction enzymes was named Type IV, as distinct from the familiar modification-blocked Types I-III. A third Escherichia coli enzyme, mrr (modified DNA rejection and restriction) recognizes both methylcytosine and methyladenine. In recent years, the universe of modification-dependent enzymes has expanded greatly. Technical advances allow use of Type IV enzymes to study epigenetic mechanisms in mammals and plants. Type IV enzymes recognize modified DNA with low sequence selectivity and have emerged many times independently during evolution. Here, we review biochemical and structural data on these proteins, the resurgent interest in Type IV enzymes as tools for epigenetic research and the evolutionary pressures on these systems.