Gliding bacteria of the genus Cytophaga synthesize sulfonolipids (1,2) that contain capnine (1-deoxy-15-methylhexadecasphinganine-1-sulfonic acid). Studies of the incorporation of radiolabeled compounds by C. johnsonae show that cysteate is utilized preferentially to both cystine and inorganic sulfate as a precursor of capnine sulfur and to both cystine and serine as a precursor of carbons 1 and 2 of capnine. The results are consistent with a pathway in which capnine is formed by condensation of cysteate with a fatty acyl CoA. Cystine, added as the sole sulfur source in the presence of glucose, provides the sulfur but not the carbon for capnine. Hence, these cells form cysteate not by direct oxidation of cystine (or cysteine), but by transfer of its sulfur to a different carbon compound.