Although it is the defining organ of chordates the notochord is perhaps the least understood of vertebrate organs because it is usually considered a transient structure only present in early embryonic development. The notochord is the defining structure of the chordates and has essential roles in vertebrate development it serves as a source of midline signals that pattern surrounding tissues and as a major skeletal element of the developing embryo. Evolution of the notochord skeleton is an internal rod the notochord which functions for convenience we will refer to the structure simply as the notochord following von baers
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