Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 25214631
Link to DOI – 10.1126/science.1253396
Science 2014 Sep; 345(6202): 1365-8
The origin of chordates has been debated for more than a century, with one key issue being the emergence of the notochord. In vertebrates, the notochord develops by convergence and extension of the chordamesoderm, a population of midline cells of unique molecular identity. We identify a population of mesodermal cells in a developing invertebrate, the marine annelid Platynereis dumerilii, that converges and extends toward the midline and expresses a notochord-specific combination of genes. These cells differentiate into a longitudinal muscle, the axochord, that is positioned between central nervous system and axial blood vessel and secretes a strong collagenous extracellular matrix. Ancestral state reconstruction suggests that contractile mesodermal midline cells existed in bilaterian ancestors. We propose that these cells, via vacuolization and stiffening, gave rise to the chordate notochord.