The conventional understanding of phenotype is as a derivative of descent with modification through Darwinian random mutation and natural selection. Recent research has revealed Lamarckian inheritance as a major transgenerational mechanism for environmental action on genomes whose extent is determined, in significant part, by germ line cells during meiosis and subsequent stages of embryological development. In consequence, the role of phenotype can productively be reconsidered. The possibility that phenotype is directed towards the effective acquisition of epigenetic marks in consistent reciprocation with the environment during the life cycle of an organism is explored. It is proposed that phenotype is an active agent in niche construction for the active acquisition of epigenetic marks as a dominant evolutionary mechanism rather than a consequence of Darwinian selection towards reproductive success. The reproductive phase of the life cycle can then be appraised as a robust framework in which epigenetic inheritance is entrained to affect growth and development in continued reciprocal responsiveness to environmental stresses. Furthermore, as first principles of physiology determine the limits of epigenetic inheritance, a coherent justification can thereby be provided for the obligate return of all multicellular eukaryotes to the unicellular state.
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