SUMMARY The full-length sequence and zygotic expression of an amphioxus nodal gene are described. Expression is first detected in the early gastrula just within the dorsal lip of the blastopore in a region of hypoblast that is probably comparable with the vertebrate Spemann's organizer. In the late gastrula and early neurula, expression remains bilaterally symmetrical, limited to paraxial mesoderm and immediately overlying regions of the neural plate. Later in the neurula stage, all neural expression disappears, and mesodermal expression disappears from the right side. All along the left side of the neurula, mesodermal expression spreads into the left side of the gut endoderm. Soon thereafter, all expression is down-regulated except near the anterior and posterior ends of the animal, where transcripts are still found in the mesoderm and endoderm on the left side. At this time, expression also begins in the ectoderm on the left side of the head, in the region where the mouth later forms. These results suggest that amphioxus and vertebrate nodal genes play evolutionarily conserved roles in establishing Spemann's organizer, patterning the mesoderm rostrocaudally and setting up the asymmetrical left–right axis of the body.