Background Cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) are crucial regulators of cell cycle progression in eukaryotes. The diatom CDKA2 was originally assigned to the classical A-type CDKs, but its cell cycle phase-specific transcription at the G2-to-M phase transition is typical for plant-specific B-type CDKs. Results Here, we report the functional characterization of CDKA2 from the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum. Through a yeast two-hybrid library screen, CDKA2 was found to interact with the G2/M-specific CDK scaffolding factor CKS1. Localization of CDKA2 was found to be nuclear in interphase cells, while in cells undergoing cytokinesis, the signal extended to the cell division plane. In addition, overexpression of CDKA2 induced an overall reduction in the cell growth rate. Expression analysis of cell cycle marker genes in the overexpression lines indicates that this growth reduction is primarily due to a prolongation of the mitotic phase. Conclusions Our study indicates a role for CDKA2 during cell division in diatoms. The functional characterization of a CDK with clear CDKB properties in a non-green organism questions whether the current definition of B-type CDKs being plant-specific might need revision.