Research Lab: Houston

Dr. Rachel Houston is currently an Assistant Professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. In Fall of 2018, Dr. Houston joined the department of Forensic Science as an Assistant Professor.

She received her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2013 before pursuing a PhD in Forensic Science at Sam Houston State University. In May of 2018, Rachel completed her PhD, which was a funded Graduate Research Fellowship sponsored by the National Institute of Justice that focused on developing genetic assays to aid in the individualization and origin determination of marijuana samples.

Dr. Houston is also an active member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) and the Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators (AFDAA).

Dr. Houston's research interests include a variety of topics that range from innovative technologies applied to human identification to non-human forensic genetics. Current projects at SHSU include the optimization of front end DNA collection for "touch" samples, the evaluation of an innovative DNA collection device with mock disaster victim identification (DVI) type samples, the development of an assay for rapid detection and identification of bio-threats, and the development of genetic assays to predict a Cannabis sample's crop type (hemp vs. marijuana) and geographical origin.

Dr. Houston's research goals include evaluating front end processing of evidence and the applicability of direct PCR specifically with "touch" samples. More research is needed to evaluate which types of evidence can and should be processed with a Direct to PCR workflow.

Additionally, Dr. Houston would like to continue to expand the field of forensic plant science by developing more genetic assays for identification and individualization of plants of forensic interest. Specially, plants that are highly trafficked for their psychoactive properties are the top priority. Example plants of interest include Cannabis sativa (marijuana), Papaver somniferum (opium poppy), Erythroxylum coca (cocaine), and Mitragyna speciose (kratom).

Other research interests include exploring the use of alternate DNA markers (INNULs, INDELs, SNPs) and Massively Parallel Sequencing (MPS) for human identification (HID) and intelligence purposes.

Research Updates

  • Dr. Houston's group publishes paper utilizing eucalyptus DNA

    November 2020

    Science & Justice Article

    Congratulations to Dr. Madeline Roman on her first author publication titled "Use of Eucalyptus DNA profiling in a case of illegal logging". This paper explored the use of DNA to help solve environmental crimes (link to pdf).

  • PhD student Ryan Gutierrez gives presentation at virtual ISHI conference

    September 2020

    Gutierrez gives presentation

    Congratulations to Ryan Gutierrez on his presentation titled "Moving Forward: Applying Massively Parallel Sequencing to Achieve Quality Mitochondrial Sequencing Results". This presentation occurred at the International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI), which is a leading Forensic DNA conference.

  • PhD Students Ryan Gutierrez and Jessica Cheng give presentation at AFDAA

    August 2020

    AFDAA Summer Meeting

    Congratulations to Ryan Gutierrez for presenting his oral presentation titled "Alternate processing techniques for highly degraded samples" at the Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators (AFDAA) virtually. Additionally, Jessica Cheng gave an oral presentation titled "Genetic differentiation of marijuana and hemp".