The environmentally responsive molecular chaperone Hsp90 assists the maturation of many key regulatory proteins. An unexpected consequence of this essential biochemical function is that genetic variation can accumulate in genomes and can remain phenotypically silent until Hsp90 function is challenged. Notably, this variation can be revealed by modest environmental change, establishing an environmentally responsive exposure mechanism. The existence of diverse cryptic polymorphisms with a plausible exposure mechanism in evolutionarily distant lineages has implications for the pace and nature of evolutionary change. Chaperone-mediated storage and release of genetic variation is undoubtedly rooted in protein-folding phenomena. As we discuss, proper protein folding crucially affects the trajectory from genotype to phenotype. Indeed, the impact of protein quality-control mechanisms and other fundamental cellular processes on evolution has heretofore been overlooked. A true understanding of evolutionary processes will require an integration of current evolutionary paradigms with the many new insights accruing in protein science. BioEssays 26:348–362, 2004. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.