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What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution

Join a noted field biologist to survey how the theory of evolution has evolved.
What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 75.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Full of amazing information! This course is full of surprising things we didn't know about. It is very well organized and paced so that all the information has time to sink in. The presenter is pleasant and engaging throughout.
Date published: 2024-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent introduction How do I tell Wondrium as loudly as possible that this lecture deserves a PART 2 to go into this subject in MORE depth? I would love to see more Prof. Solomon teaching the intricacies of evolution.
Date published: 2024-03-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from No discussion of breeds I would rate this series at a 3.5. I now find myself way more skeptical of evolutionary theory than I was before watching this. Some of this definitely is caused by lack of definition of terms. There was a very wishy-washy discussion of the definition of Species and NO discussion of breeds. If Galapagos Finches are different species due to their beaks, explain to the me the differences in dogs ears which all belong to the same species. There was no discussion of breeds. Much of nature goes against natural selection such has the "end of season" housekeeping performed by hornets which includes the killing of the queen and all remaining larva. Sterile hybrids, one of the major criticism of evolutionary theory by Darwin's contemporaries, was barely touched upon. The high point of this series was the discussion of gene editing tools. If you are a proponent of Darwinian Evolution and are willing to throw out about half of the related science, then this series is for you. The path from out Last Common Universal Ancestor to us was very dimly light.
Date published: 2024-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lecturer This is a great course, explaining genetics, genomics. The course is listed as 2019, but much new information has become available since. Prof Solomon would be welcomed for an update, including the new ideas from Nobel Laureate Paabo and the data regarding population migrations.
Date published: 2023-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy genetic explanations! I loved how each concept was explained in layman’s terms so that non-scientific individuals could understand evolution. Thank you for making this so easy to understand. I used to think evolution was some vague theory that didn’t have a lot of evidence, but now I find it’s quite to the contrary and that the missing pieces have been filled in.
Date published: 2023-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In top 10% of the +200 GC courses I have watched! This course shows Prof Solomon is one of the young stars of Wondrium. He is clear and engaging, and makes complex subjects relatively easy to understand! Moreover, while he is reading from a monitor--unlike various other Wondrium teachers--it wasn't really noticeable at all. Having watched +200 GC/Wondrium courses, I was VERY impressed with this course and highly recommend it! Please give him more courses to teach! In fact, I recommend Wondrium use this course as a MODEL for what future courses should generally look like. Well done Prof Solomon!!! As a side note, I was also thankful that this course did NOT include false/illogical/ridiculous opinions about society, virtue signaling, political commentary, or other irrelevant NONSENSE that several 2022-23 Wondrium courses I have recently watched unfortunately contain. It goes without saying that this is not a detailed review. Rather, I mainly wanted to add my '5 stars' to a course that deserves AT LEAST 5 stars.
Date published: 2023-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broad, deep, insightful In this course professor Solomon explains everything you ever wanted to know about evolution, and then some. Modern concepts of evolutionary sciences are thoroughly presented with practical examples that illustrate the concepts discussed. The complexities associated with evolution, adaptation and selection of new traits and new species are supported with genetics, population dynamics, geology and even molecular biology. The course dispels traditional concepts that consider evolution as being a straightforward and linear process. Lectures also present fascinating possibilities for the use of "directed" evolution for medical purposes and speculative ideas about the future evolution of man kind. Totally worth it!
Date published: 2023-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thought provoking After 3 years of Covid pandemic, this is a most timely and thought-provoking study for me. The material is dense, broad, and well presented. I will treasure this course and review it from time to time.
Date published: 2022-12-08
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Taught by Professor Scott Solomon of Rice University, this course follows the revolution in biology and genetics sparked by Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. In Darwin's day, there were many gaps and uncertainties in his theory-most of which were conclusively solved by his successors. Throughout, Dr. Solomon contrasts what Darwin knew with our tremendous increase in knowledge today.


Scott Solomon

Insect species outnumber all the other animal groups combined.


Rice University

Scott Solomon is an Associate Teaching Professor at Rice University, where he teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and scientific communication. He received his PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from The University of Texas at Austin. He has also worked as a visiting researcher with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and with São Paulo State University in Rio Claro, Brazil.

Scott has taught field biology courses at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado and in the rainforests and coral reefs of Belize. He has also been a resident associate at Baker College, one of Rice’s residential colleges, and served as a faculty fellow at Rice’s Center for Teaching Excellence, where he acted as a liaison to other faculty. He received the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching and the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award from Rice University as well as the Rising Star Award from the University of Illinois Laboratory High School.

Scott is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for the Study of Evolution. He also serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Tropical Ecology. He regularly lectures on science topics at museums, schools, churches, and TEDx events. His writing and photography have appeared in such publications as Aeon, Nautilus, Slate, and WIRED. He is the author of Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution.

By This Professor

Why Insects Matter: Earth’s Most Essential Species
What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution
What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution


What Darwin Knew and Why It Still Matters

01: What Darwin Knew and Why It Still Matters

Retrace Darwin’s path to his theory of evolution by natural selection, which appeared in his masterpiece The Origin of Species, published in 1859. Encounter collector Alfred Russel Wallace’s astonishing, almost identical, key insight. Detail the types of evidence, not known to Darwin, that have accumulated in the century and a half since his time, deepening and extending his ideas to a remarkable degree.

32 min
Inheritance: Darwin’s Missing Link

02: Inheritance: Darwin’s Missing Link

Missing from On the Origin of Species is any account of how traits pass from one generation to the next. Explore the work on genetic inheritance by Gregor Mendel, whose pioneering rules of heredity remained essentially unknown for 35 years. Follow up with 20th-century pioneers including Thomas Hunt Morgan, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and others, who established the “modern synthesis” of evolutionary biology.

33 min
Genome Mutations: Evolution’s Raw Material

03: Genome Mutations: Evolution’s Raw Material

The arrival of genetics in the early 20th century addressed what Darwin did not know about inheritance, but there was more to uncover: how do genes function, and where do variations come from? Trace the discovery of DNA as the carrier of genetic information and the realization that mutations and other structural changes in DNA are a source of the modifications that underlie natural selection.

33 min
Gene Flow versus Natural Selection

04: Gene Flow versus Natural Selection

Natural selection is not the only mechanism driving evolution. In this lecture, discover how the movement of individuals leads to gene flow between populations. Travel to the Galapagos Islands and neighboring Cocos Island to see how finches evolved into multiple species in the Galapagos archipelago but stayed a distinct species on isolated Cocos. Consider the implications for human evolution.

31 min
Geology and Genes: The Geography of Life

05: Geology and Genes: The Geography of Life

Trace the importance of geology in Darwin’s thinking and his many observations that make sense only in light of the theory of plate tectonics, which was not developed until the 1960s. Chart the breakup, movement, and reassembly of continental plates that dispersed related flora and fauna all over the planet. Also look at the Wallace Line in Indonesia, which separates Asian from Australian species.

31 min
Genetic Drift: When Evolution Is Random

06: Genetic Drift: When Evolution Is Random

Explore how population bottlenecks and the founder effect lead to random changes in the frequency of genes, an independent mechanism of evolution known as as genetic drift. Darwin had an inkling of this process when he proposed that “spontaneous variations” play a role in evolution. But genetic drift has proved far more significant than he ever envisioned. For example, it has played a key role in human evolution.

32 min
Rapid Evolution within Species

07: Rapid Evolution within Species

Darwin thought evolution was an imperceptibly slow process, but it can happen remarkably quickly. Review Peter and Rosemary Grant’s famous studies of Galapagos finches, along with the work of other scientists on guppies in Trinidad, moths in England, and foxes in Siberia. These show evolution playing out in real-time as creatures adapt to changing conditions within a few generations.

29 min
Evolution in the Lab

08: Evolution in the Lab

One thing Darwin never anticipated was that evolution would be observed in the laboratory. In this lecture, analyze lab experiments that shed light on the minute details of evolution, helping to settle a long-standing debate: Is the outcome of evolution random or predictable? Also cover digital life simulations, which inspire new ideas that can be tested with living populations.

31 min
The Many Origins of Species

09: The Many Origins of Species

Despite its title, On the Origin of Species does not fully address how new species arise. Delve into this complex problem by investigating what a species is. Consider definitions based on morphological, biological, phylogenetic, and genomic distinctions. Then examine the reproductive barriers, both before conception and after, that can lead to the origin of new species.

32 min
Cambrian Explosion to Dinosaur Extinction

10: Cambrian Explosion to Dinosaur Extinction

Darwin was puzzled by the sudden appearance of complex, diverse flora and fauna in the fossil record roughly 540 million years ago, a period known as the Cambrian explosion. And Darwin had no idea that the history of life on Earth has included five big mass extinction events—including the demise of the dinosaurs—followed by accelerated periods of evolution that often took life in radically new directions.

32 min
Reconstructing the Tree of Life with DNA

11: Reconstructing the Tree of Life with DNA

Darwin envisioned the history of evolution as a great Tree of Life, in which all the branches are connected by ancestry. Explore the modern version of this idea, which has been revolutionized by DNA sequencing. Investigate the concept of phylogenetics and the surprisingly close link between single-celled microorganisms, plants, and animals. Also probe the phenomenon of “jumping” genes.

31 min
Human Evolution in All Directions

12: Human Evolution in All Directions

Zoom in on the branch of the Tree of Life that gave rise to our species. Fossil discoveries and insights from DNA have led researchers to abandon the iconic image of a linear progression from hunched apes to upright humans. In its place is a much more intertwined tree for humans and their closest living and extinct relatives, including Neanderthals and the recently discovered Denisovans.

32 min
Evolution Doesn’t Repeat, but It Rhymes

13: Evolution Doesn’t Repeat, but It Rhymes

Convergent evolution occurs when natural selection causes different species to evolve in similar ways. Does this mean that evolution follows a predetermined path? Focus on the recent debate between scientists Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris. Gould perceived contingencies and unpredictability, but Conway Morris saw repetition and consistency. How do these views relate to human evolution?

30 min
The Evolution of Extreme Life

14: The Evolution of Extreme Life

Life is even more adaptable than Darwin could have known. In this lecture, investigate extremophiles—organisms that flourish in extreme conditions. These have made biologists rethink the limitations of life on Earth. From bacteria existing miles underground that divide once every 10,000 years to creatures thriving next to superheated undersea volcanoes, life is programmed to adapt and survive.

32 min
Imperfect Nature: Ad Hoc Body Designs

15: Imperfect Nature: Ad Hoc Body Designs

While Darwin knew of inefficient anatomical features of humans and other animals, he didn’t consider these a distinct category of evidence for natural selection. Explore ad hoc body designs—from our imperfect eyes and sexual anatomy, to the bizarre faces of flounders and the false thumbs of pandas. Each adaptation shows evolution devising a solution that is “good enough,” even if it is not ideal.

31 min
The Sterile Worker Paradox

16: The Sterile Worker Paradox

Why was Darwin afraid that ants might undermine his theory of natural selection? Delve into the sterile worker paradox: the puzzle of why ants and other “eusocial” species evolved to have large numbers of non-reproducing offspring. Since the ability to reproduce is central to natural selection, this feature, which is common among insects and also present in other animals, demands explanation.

33 min
Coevolution: Peace Accords and Arms Races

17: Coevolution: Peace Accords and Arms Races

Darwin saw that natural selection not only leads to species that evolve to their mutual advantage, but to enemies that wage an evolutionary arms race that ends up benefiting both sides. Study coevolutionary cases—from the yucca plant and its symbiotic partner, the yucca moth, to the fastest animal on Earth, the cheetah, and its prey the springbok antelope, which has evolved to be almost as fast.

32 min
Microbiomes: Evolution with Small Partners

18: Microbiomes: Evolution with Small Partners

On the Origin of Species failed to account for a major part of the Tree of Life, namely bacteria and other microorganisms. These represent the original forms of life, and they have played a central role in the evolution of every species since. Study the symbiotic role of microbes in the functioning of plants and animals, and consider the view that all organisms are, in part, microbial.

33 min
The Evolution of Brains and Behavior

19: The Evolution of Brains and Behavior

In Darwin’s lifetime, comparisons between the brains of different species were restricted to examinations of anatomy alone. Today, researchers use genetic tools to gain deep insights into how behaviors and sensory abilities evolve. Study behavior in creatures from fire ants to crows to humans, asking how did human brains get so large—and why are big brains so useful anyway?

31 min
The Evolution of Sex and Parenting

20: The Evolution of Sex and Parenting

Darwin devised his theory of sexual selection to explain many traits that can’t be understood through natural selection alone—from the peacock’s gaudy tail to the elaborate constructions of bowerbirds. Probe deeper to discover why sexual reproduction exists at all, what causes individuals to develop into males versus females, and why some males take on the role of raising the young.

32 min
The Evolution of Aging and Death

21: The Evolution of Aging and Death

Darwin’s writings seem to imply that evolution through natural selection should always favor longer lifespans. So why don’t we live forever (or at least for several centuries)? Consider ways that evolutionary processes account for aging and death. Weigh factors such as accumulated mutations, programmed cell death, and genes whose multiple effects are antagonistically at odds with one another.

32 min
Evolutionary Medicine

22: Evolutionary Medicine

Explore one of the ultimate applications of evolutionary principles: harnessing evolution to benefit human health. Study diseases such as malaria, AIDS, influenza, and cancer that evolve rapidly to outmaneuver the body’s changing defenses. Also contrast our modern lifestyle with the physiology we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, who evolved to compete in a far different world.

32 min
Gene Editing and Directed Evolution

23: Gene Editing and Directed Evolution

Darwin contrasted natural selection with artificial selection—the time-tested techniques for selective breeding that promote desired traits in plants and animals. See how far we’ve come with 21st-century tools such as CRISPR, which allows precise edits to the DNA sequence of any species. Evaluate the promise and perils of this technology, which lets us take evolution into our own hands.

32 min
The Future of Human Evolution

24: The Future of Human Evolution

What does the future hold? Will we evolve into new species? Or have we reached an optimum state that will see minimal evolutionary changes? Weigh the impact of our ever-more-sophisticated technology and consider what will happen to humans who leave Earth for another planet with new physiological challenges. As you learn in this course, evolution isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable.

38 min