Notochord

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The notochord is the defining feature of chordates, and was present throughout life in many of the earliest chordates. Although the stomochord of hemichordates was once thought to be homologous, it is now viewed as a convergence. Pikaia appears to have a proto-notochord, and notochords are present in several basal chordates such as Haikouella, Haikouichthys, and Myllokunmingia, all from the Cambrian. The Ordovician oceans included many diverse species of Agnatha and early Gnathostomata which possessed notochords, either with attached bony elements or without, most notably the conodonts, placoderms and ostracoderms. Even after the evolution of the vertebral column in chondrichthyes and osteichthyes, these taxa remained common and are well represented in the fossils record. Several species (see list below) have reverted to the primitive state, retaining the notochord into adulthood, though the reasons for this are not well understood. Scenarios for the evolutionary origin of the notochord have been comprehensively reviewed (Annona, G. , Holland, N. D. , and D'Aniello, S. 2015. Evolution of the notochord. EvoDevo 6: article 30). They point out that, although many of these ideas have not been well supported by advances in molecular phylogenetics and developmental genetics, two of them have actually been revived under the stimulus of modern molecular approaches(the first proposes that the notochord evolved de novo in chordates, and the second derives it from a homologous structure, the axochord, that was present in annelid-like ancestors of the chordates). Deciding between these two scenarios (or possibly another yet to be proposed) should be facilitated by much more thorough studies of gene regulatory networks in a wide spectrum of animals.