any member of either of two invertebrate subphyla of the phylum Chordata: the Tunicata (sea squirts, salps, etc.) and the Cephalochordata (amphioxus). Like the remaining subphylum of the chordates, the Vertebrata, the protochordates have a hollow dorsal nerve cord, gill slits, and a stiff supporting rod, the notochord, the forerunner of the backbone. The protochordates differ chiefly from the vertebrates in not having a backbone. Recent protochordates are thought to have evolved from the same ancestral stock as that which gave rise to the vertebrates.
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