Basement membranes are thought to be essential for organ formation, providing the scaffold on which individual cells organize to form complex tissues. Laminins are integral components of basement membranes. To understand the development of a simple vertebrate organ, we have used positional cloning to characterize grumpy and sleepy, two zebrafish loci known to control notochord formation, and find that they encode laminin beta1 and laminin gamma1, respectively. Removal of either chain results in the dramatic loss of laminin 1 staining throughout the embryo and prevents formation of the basement membrane surrounding the notochord. Notochord cells fail to differentiate and many die by apoptosis. By transplantation, we demonstrate that, for both grumpy and sleepy, notochord differentiation can be rescued by exogenous sources of the missing laminin chain, although notochordal sources are also sufficient for rescue. These results demonstrate a clear in vivo requirement for laminin beta1 and laminin gamma1 in the formation of a specific vertebrate organ and show that laminin or the laminin-dependent basement membrane is essential for the differentiation of chordamesoderm to notochord.