Deuterostomes are a monophyletic group of animals that include the vertebrates, invertebrate chordates, ambulacrarians and xenoturbellids. Fossil representatives from most major deuterostome groups, including some phylum-level crown groups, are found in the Lower Cambrian, suggesting that evolutionary divergence occurred in the Late Precambrian, in agreement with some molecular clock estimates. Molecular phylogenies, larval morphology and the adult heart/kidney complex all support echinoderms and hemichordates as a sister grouping (Ambulacraria). Xenoturbellids are a relatively newly discovered phylum of worm-like deuterostomes that lacks a fossil record, but molecular evidence suggests that these animals are a sister group to the Ambulacraria. Within the chordates, cephalochordates share large stretches of chromosomal synteny with the vertebrates, have a complete Hox complex and are sister group to the vertebrates based on ribosomal and mitochondrial gene evidence. In contrast, tunicates have a highly derived adult body plan and are sister group to the vertebrates based on the analyses of concatenated genomic sequences. Cephalochordates and hemichordates share gill slits and an acellular cartilage, suggesting that the ancestral deuterostome also shared these features. Gene network data suggest that the deuterostome ancestor had an anterior-posterior body axis specified by Hox and Wnt genes, a dorsoventral axis specified by a BMP/chordin gradient, and was bilaterally symmetrical with left-right asymmetry determined by expression of nodal.