Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is one of the most significant scientific theories in history. His work has had a profound impact on the way we understand life on Earth today.

However, there are several things that Darwin did not know when he developed his theory. In this article, we will explore some of the key aspects that Darwin was unaware of.

What Did Darwin Get Right?

Before we dive into what Darwin did not know, let’s first review what he got right. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection proposed that organisms with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and reproduce. Over time, these advantageous traits become more common in a population, leading to the evolution of new species.

In addition to natural selection, Darwin also recognized the importance of variation within a population. He observed that individuals within a species vary in their physical and behavioral characteristics. This variation provides the raw material for natural selection to act upon.

What Did Darwin Not Know?

Despite his groundbreaking work, there were several aspects of evolution that Darwin was unaware of:


One major area that Darwin did not understand was genetics. At the time when he formulated his theory, scientists knew very little about how traits were inherited from one generation to another. It wasn’t until Gregor Mendel’s experiments with pea plants in the late 1800s that the basic principles of inheritance began to be understood.

Today, we know that genes are responsible for determining an organism’s traits, and these genes are passed down from parents to offspring through sexual reproduction. This understanding has greatly enhanced our knowledge of how evolution works.


Another thing that Darwin did not know about was mutations – changes in an organism’s DNA sequence that can create new traits. Mutations can occur spontaneously or as a result of exposure to environmental factors such as radiation or chemicals.

Darwin’s theory did not account for the role of mutations in evolution. However, we now know that mutations play a critical role in generating genetic variation within a population, which can then be acted upon by natural selection.

Horizontal Gene Transfer

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is the movement of genetic material between organisms that are not parent and offspring. This can occur through several mechanisms, such as viruses or bacteria transferring genes to other organisms.

Darwin was not aware of HGT and its potential impact on evolution. While it is still a relatively new area of research, scientists are beginning to recognize the importance of HGT in shaping the evolutionary history of life on Earth.


Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was a remarkable achievement that revolutionized our understanding of life on Earth. However, he did not have access to the scientific knowledge that we have today. By building on Darwin’s work and incorporating new discoveries about genetics, mutations, and horizontal gene transfer, we continue to refine our understanding of how evolution works and how life has evolved over billions of years.