Diatoms are highly productive single-celled algae that form an intricately patterned silica cell wall after every cell division. They take up and utilize silicic acid from seawater via silicon transporter (SIT) proteins. This study examined the evolution of the SIT gene family to identify potential genetic adaptations that enable diatoms to thrive in the modern ocean. By searching for sequence homologs in available databases, the diversity of organisms found to encode SITs increased substantially and included all major diatom lineages and other algal protists. A bacterial-encoded gene with homology to SIT sequences was also identified, suggesting that a lateral gene transfer event occurred between bacterial and protist lineages. In diatoms, the SIT genes diverged and diversified to produce five distinct clades. The most basal SIT clades were widely distributed across diatom lineages, while the more derived clades were lineage-specific, which together produced a distinct repertoire of SIT types among major diatom lineages. Differences in the predicted protein functional domains encoded among SIT clades suggest that the divergence of clades resulted in functional diversification among SITs. Both laboratory cultures and natural communities changed transcription of each SIT clade in response to experimental or environmental growth conditions, with distinct transcriptional patterns observed among clades. Together, these data suggest that the diversification of SITs within diatoms led to specialized adaptations among diatoms lineages, and perhaps their dominant ability to take up silicic acid from seawater in diverse environmental conditions.