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A single cell or group of cells that upon plating in or on solid media replicates to form a visible as well as well-defined area of growth.
A colony can form starting with any number of cells and that the resulting colony will look pretty much the same unless it was started with an extremely large number of cells. In any case, the cells from which the colony is initiated would be found more or less of at the center of resulting colony. We thus employ the term colony-forming unit to describe the colony-forming cells because we can't be sure, from looking at the colony, that it was initiated with one versus many initial cells.
See equivalently plaque-forming unit or PFU, where a plaque can be initiation with a single virus, aggregated virions, or a virus-infected cell or cells.
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