Abstract 10.1002/1097-010X(20001215)288:4<304::AID-JEZ3>3.3.CO;2-7 The close mapping between genotype and morphological phenotype in many contemporary metazoans has led to the general notion that the evolution of organismal form is a direct consequence of evolving genetic programs. In contrast to this view, we propose that the present relationship between genes and form is a highly derived condition, a product of evolution rather than its precondition. Prior to the biochemical canalization of developmental pathways, and the stabilization of phenotypes, interaction of multicellular organisms with their physico-chemical environments dictated a many-to-many mapping between genomes and forms. These forms would have been generated by epigenetic mechanisms: initially physical processes characteristic of condensed, chemically active materials, and later conditional, inductive interactions among the organism’s constituent tissues. This concept, that epigenetic mechanisms are the generative agents of morphological character origination, helps to explain findings that are difficult to reconcile with the standard neo-Darwinian model, e.g., the burst of body plans in the early Cambrian, the origins of morphological innovation, homology, and rapid change of form. Our concept entails a new interpretation of the relationship between genes and biological form. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 288:304–317, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.