The notochord is critical for the normal development of vertebrate embryos. It serves both as the major skeletal element of the embryo and as a signaling source for the establishment of pattern within the neurectoderm, the paraxial mesoderm and other tissues. In a large-scale systematic screen of mutations affecting embryogenesis in zebrafish we identified 65 mutations that fall into 29 complementation groups, each leading to a defect in the formation and/or maintenance of the notochord. These mutations produce phenotypic abnormalities at numerous stages of notochord development, thereby establishing a phenotypic pathway, which in turn suggests a genetic pathway for the development of the notochord. Perturbations within adjacent tissues in mutant embryos further indicate the importance of notochord-derived signals for patterning within the embryo and suggest that these mutations will yield additional insight into the cues that regulate these patterning processes.

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