From its first appearance in early vertebrates, the spine evolved the function of protecting the spinal cord, avoiding excessive straining during body motion. Its stiffness and strength provided the basis for the development of the axial skeleton as the mechanical support of later animals, especially those which moved to the terrestrial environment where gravity loads are not alleviated by the buoyant force of water. In tetrapods, the functions of the spine can be summarized as follows: protecting the spinal cord; supporting the weight of the body, transmitting it to the ground through the limbs; allowing the motion of the trunk, through to its flexibility; providing robust origins and insertions to the muscles of trunk and limbs. This narrative review provides a brief perspective on the development of the spine in vertebrates, first from an evolutionary, and then from an embryological point of view. The paper describes functions and the shape of the spine throughout the whole evolution of vertebrates and vertebrate embryos, from primordial jawless fish to extant animals such as birds and humans, highlighting its fundamental features such as strength, stability, and flexibility, which gives it huge potential as a basis for bio-inspired technologies.
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