Scientists in China say they used genetic engineering to create monkeys with a version of autism, an achievement that could make it easier to test treatments but that raises thorny practical and ethical questions over how useful such animal models will be.

Neuroscientist Zilong Qiu of the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences says his team has generated more than a dozen monkeys with a genetic error that in human children causes a rare syndrome whose symptoms include mental retardation and autistic features, such as repetitive speech and restricted interests.

Autism refers to any of a spectrum of intellectual and behavioral disorders identified in about one in 68 children in the U.S., and whose genetic underpinnings are starting to be unraveled (see “Solving the Autism Puzzle”).

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