Cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) are important in prokaryotes and eukaryotes for cell–cell and cell–substratum interactions. The characteristics of adhesive proteins in the model diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum were investigated by bioinformatic analysis and in vivo characterization. Bioinformatic analysis of the protein coding potential of the P. tricornutum genome used an amino-acid profile that we developed as a new system to identify uncharacterized or novel CAMs. Putative diatom CAMs were identified and seven were characterized in vivo, by generation of transgenic diatom lines overexpressing genes encoding C-terminal yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) fusion proteins. Three of these selected genes encode proteins with weak similarity to characterized proteins, a c-type lectin and two fasciclins, whereas the others are novel. The resultant cell lines were investigated for alterations in their adhesive ability. Whole cell-substratum adhesion strength was measured in a fully turbulent flow chamber, while atomic force microscopy was used to quantify the relative frequency of adhesion, as well as the length and strength of single molecules in the secreted mucilage. Finally, quartz crystal microbalance analysis characterized the visco-elastic properties and interaction of the mucilage–substratum interface. These combined studies revealed a range of phenotypes affecting adhesion, and led to the identification of candidate proteins involved in diatom adhesion. In summary, our study has for the first time combined bioinformatics and molecular physiological studies to provide new insights into diatom adhesive molecules.